Canadian fetal alcohol programs inspire Australian researcher

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Social Work’s Dorothy Badry shares successful approaches with Australian counterpart

By Bob Blakey

November 26, 2014

As a specialist in Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) with years of experience in social work, associate professor Dorothy Badry knows you can’t walk into a family’s home and launch straight into the dangers of drinking alcohol while pregnant.

Half a world away in Western Australia, Robyn Williams, an Aboriginal woman and PhD candidate from Curtin University, has learned exactly the same thing.

After meeting for the first time recently in Alberta, and sharing knowledge in conjunction with various Canadian conferences, organizations and experts, Badry has confirmed some problems are universal. And Williams returned to her hometown of Perth, Australia, after her month-long Canadian journey equipped with valuable, practical understanding about responding to FASD in both countries and invaluable academic and agency contacts that are now just a phone call or email away.

“I’m taking back with me a new level of confidence and experience that you just can’t get out of books,” Williams says. “The people I’ve met through Dorothy have shown me how extensive the resources are here. Alberta has fetal alcohol programs that simply don’t exist in my country.

Robyn Williams, left, made a wealth of academic and community contacts during her month-long visit to Alberta, thanks to Dorothy Badry, associate professor in the Faculty of Social Work.  Photo courtesy of Dorothy Badry

Robyn Williams, left, made a wealth of academic and community contacts during her month-long visit to Alberta, thanks to Dorothy Badry, associate professor in the Faculty of Social Work. Photo courtesy of Dorothy Badry


“Now that I’ve done an intensive study trip over here and had training with some of the world’s best, I’m confident I can go back and start at the right point in each case I encounter.”

Experts from Canada and Australia encourage each other

Academics cross paths Both women are advancing knowledge through research and academic organizations. Badry’s expertise includes child and adolescent development, child welfare practice, child trauma particularly in relation to FASD, curriculum development, disabilities, and field education. She is also the academic lead for the University of Calgary’s Certificate in Working with Homeless Populations.

Robyn Williams, one of the Noongar people who are indigenous to the Southwest area of Western Australia, is doing her doctoral research on FASD in Aboriginal communities in her country with a mixed-methods approach — survey and interviews with communities around Perth, the largest city in her state, with the largest Aboriginal population. She has worked for more than 25 years in Aboriginal affairs, including community-based agencies and academia, designing curriculum and teaching at two universities.

Williams was inspired by Badry’s work after concluding she needed to visit Canada to learn about this country’s advances in research and service delivery for FASD, a spectrum of disorders that includes Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. She knew she could discover much about her career specialty, and Badry knew Williams could broaden the knowledge of FASD among academics and social workers here. Badry’s work on FASD within the First Nations communities influenced and inspired Williams' approach in the development of a survey tool that could act as an icebreaker and begin sensitive conversations on FASD within Aboriginal communities in Western Australia.

Meeting with Aboriginal community members was a highlight of Williams' trip.  Photo courtesy of Dorothy Badry

Meeting with Aboriginal community members was a highlight of Williams' trip. Photo courtesy of Dorothy Badry

Prenatal alcohol exposure can lead to FASD, which causes physical and developmental anomalies in a fetus, particularly with binge drinking behavior. Thus the message that no alcohol is best during pregnancy is recommended. The conditions from which FASD emerges are complex, and concerns about FASD heighten when women experience poverty, historical abuse and use alcohol to self-medicate in response to their trauma.

Connecting on a human level through shared experience 

Once Williams arrived in Canada, she embarked on a whirlwind circuit of conferences in Alberta and Manitoba, with a side trip to Portland, Oregon for a training session. She also met with Aboriginal community members in several communities.

Williams says a particularly memorable experience was attending a Learning Circle (a gathering of social work students from across the province both in-person and via video conference) in Grande Prairie. There, she talked about her doctoral research and the importance of recognizing that individuals with FASD can only be understood if you accept that their condition is irreversible and that many supports are required over the lifespan. “The other thing I shared with them was that there’s grief and loss. There’s a grieving for knowing that they won’t have the same potential in life as what I would have, and so there is urgency to raise awareness and advocate for support for our families.”

Willliams shared her FASD research with Faculty of Social Work Learning Circle students from across the province. Students attended the session either in-person in Grande Prairie or via video conference from other Learning Circle sites.  Photo courtesy of Dorothy Badry

Willliams shared her FASD research with Faculty of Social Work Learning Circle students from across the province. Students attended the session either in-person in Grande Prairie or via video conference from other Learning Circle sites. Photo courtesy of Dorothy Badry

She was also touched by the way First Nations people greeted her warmly.

“I have lovely memories of this time,” Williams says. “I have been mistaken for a Cree lady. I’ve been called ‘relative.’ I have been welcomed by so many.

“We could talk like old friends, because our history of colonization is so similar. The issues that confront First Nations people (in Canada) confront us in Australia.” 

https://www.ucalgary.ca/utoday/issue/2014-11-26/canadian-fetal-alcohol-programs-inspire-australian-researcher