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Reflecting on “The FASD Forum ’24” conference

NOFASD Australia was proud to host its second online conference: “The FASD Forum ‘24” on Friday 3rd and Saturday 4th May 2024.  This landmark conference attracted 270 participants which was a 33% increase above “The FASD Forum” conference in 2022. Throughout the two-day event, attendees were not only able to hear from expert presenters covering diverse topics of interest, but also had the opportunity to network online with other attendees who included parents, caregivers, individuals with lived experience of FASD, as well as professionals from a multitude of FASD-related sectors.

This year’s conference theme was “Celebrating 25 Years – Finding the Silver Lining”, acknowledging the 25th Anniversary of the founding of NOFASD by Sue Miers, AM. The conference sessions provided information aimed to assist in improving life outcomes by providing insights into evidence-based approaches and effective strategies. Some of the topics covered during the conference included education strategies in the classroom, self-care strategies for parents and caregivers, violence and abusive behaviours directed at caregivers by individuals for whom they are caring, a summary of FASD developments within Australian and from around the world, and transition to adulthood, including consideration of appropriate support strategies at that time.

Keynote Speakers

We were privileged to have Professor Raja Mukherjee, an Adult Learning Disability Consultant Psychiatrist for Surrey and Border’s Partnership NHS Foundation Trust in the United Kingdom, and The Hon. Dr Sharman Stone, the Director of the Australian Institute of Family Studies, as our keynote speakers. 

Professor Mukherjee was our keynote speaker at the outset of Day 1 of the conference and his presentation “FASD, complex trauma and the overlap of the brain and environment on an individual’s behaviour”, explored the multiple factors which intersect to impact the behaviour of an individual with FASD. Comments received during his presentation revealed the appreciation of caregivers for the insights his presentation provided. Professor Mukherjee then joined us in the closing session of Day 1 for a Q & A session answering some of the questions received during his presentation.

Our keynote speaker on Day 2, The Hon. Dr Stone was one of the early FASD advocates in Australia calling for national recognition and action in relation to the impacts of alcohol on the unborn child. She highlighted the progress that has been to date and the key goals for the future in her presentation “Down the long winding road…”.

Three-Minute Thesis Session

Due to its success at the 2022 conference, the “Three-Minute Thesis” session returned for the 2024 conference. This year, the session was sponsored by the FASD Hub Australia, and it saw 12 finalists from Australia and overseas, present a clear and engaging summary of their research within the allocated timeframe of just three minutes. The research featured ranged from supporting healthy pregnancies; assisting school teaching and support staff to become FASD-informed; improving life outcomes for individuals living with FASD, and investigating issues around young people with FASD involved in the criminal justice system.

The Three-Minute Thesis Prize was judged by a panel with professional expertise on the topic of FASD and it was awarded to Katelyn Mullally, a PhD candidate at the University of Guelph for her presentation “Exploring Plea Understanding in Youth and Young Adults with and without Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)”.

Judged by a panel of people with lived experience of FASD, the People’s Choice Award was awarded in a tie to Dr David Junior Gilbert, a Fellow at the University of Salford, UK, for his presentation “Why do people with FASD sometimes get in more trouble with the police?”, and to Julie Riches, a Research Assistant at the Matilda Centre, University of Sydney, for her presentation “Learning with FASD: Evaluation of a national initiative to disseminate evidence-based resources on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder for primary school teaching and support staff.”

FASD Achievement Awards

In the closing session of the conference, NOFASD was delighted to partner with the FASD Hub Australia in sponsorship of two very special achievement awards – the Heather Jones Community Award and the Sue Miers Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Heather Jones Community Award for contribution to awareness and understanding of FASD, was created to honour the ‘unsung heroes’ of FASD, and is named after the late Heather Jones, who was a tireless advocate for improving awareness and understanding of FASD. This year’s recipient was Jessica Birch, a 38-year-old artist, graphic designer, advisor and advocate who lives with FASD. Since her diagnosis at the age of 33, Jessica has become a powerful voice raising awareness of FASD both nationally and internationally, through podcasts, webinars, national and international conferences, and she has also addressed federal parliamentarians.

The Sue Miers Lifetime Achievement Award was established and first presented in 2018 by the FASD Research Australia NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence. It is intended to recognise and celebrate a person who has made an outstanding and sustained contribution to the field of FASD and/or alcohol use in pregnancy on a local, national or international level. This year’s recipient was Professor Elizabeth Elliott AM who has devoted much of her professional career to contributing to diagnosis, understanding and prevention of FASD. For over 20 years she has been involved in clinical care, research, advocacy and policy development on FASD and alcohol use in pregnancy.

Seen in the above photo with Professor Elliott (centre) are Louise Gray, CEO of NOFASD Australia and Sue Miers AM following their presentation to Professor Elliott of the framed certificate commemorating her achievement as the recipient of this award.

Internationally, Professor Elliott was a member of groups that developed World Health Organisation guidelines for identification and management of alcohol misuse during pregnancy and an International Charter for the Prevention of FASD. In Australia, she led development of the first Australian Guide to the Diagnosis of FASD, the FASD Hub, the FASD Registry and the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in FASD and contributed to national (NHMRC) alcohol guidelines and Royal Australasian College of Physicians and Australian Medical Association (AMA) policy.

Conference Feedback

After the conference, a post-event evaluation survey was circulated to registrants, and revealed that 100% of respondents would recommend participating in this conference to someone who needs to learn about FASD.

Some of the feedback received from respondents included:

“Great keynote speakers. A really diverse group of presentations, great hearing from the living experience members.”

“I found the whole conference very informative and would happily attend more.”

“I loved the ability to watch online, especially the catch-up later facility. This allowed me firstly to attend and secondly to be flexible about my other commitments.”

IMPORTANT REMINDER: 

Everyone who registered for “The FASD Forum ‘24” will have access to the recordings of all the conference sessions until midnight on Sunday 11th August 2024. Use the same log-in details you used to watch the ‘live’ conference.

Acknowledgements

“The FASD Forum ’24” was presented by NOFASD Australia with the support of the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care.

NOFASD Australia would also like to thank the following organisations for their support:

Sponsor of the “Three-Minute Thesis” session

ETCH Sparkling is a range of alcohol-free sparkling beverages crafted using Australian native ingredients. Thanks to ETCH Sparkling for providing 10 prizes (6-packs) for the gamification competition during the conference.

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