A forum for comments on FASD, sharing, life challenges, politics and other things that bother us. By GrampaBrian, FASD Advocate (AKA Brian Philcox)

Archive for the ‘Alcohol’ Category

Bonnie Buxton: Writer

Bonnie burst into my life as an award-winning copywriter at Vickers & Benson Advertising in Montreal in 1964. The city was alive with the dynamics of Mayor Jean Drapeau as the city prepared for Expo ’67 and where every woman looked fabulous in the glittering fashion of the time. I had the good fortune to be managing the advertising and promotion for intimate apparel for Dupont of Canada. Because Bonnie was the best copywriter at V&B for my product line: lingerie, hosiery, swimwear and foundations, I quickly ensured that only she wrote the copy I needed. That partnership endures to this day.

Bonnie Buxton comes from sturdy stock, Earl Buxton and Dorothy Cox, pioneer educators from Alberta. As she enters her ninth decade, her progressive writing, parenting and generosity of spirit have buoyed me for over half a century. In spite of the devastating ravages of Alzheimer Disease, her warmth, ongoing joy for life, and an extraordinary capacity to reject the onset of Covid-19, keep her resolutely alive in the hearts of all who love her.

And loved she is. Recently, birthday messages poured in from around the world. Her literary skills were reflected by her deft humour and clarity of prose. She has been varied and prolific, writing for dailies and periodicals both here and abroad about food, travel, fashion and critical social issues like Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). She collaborated on scripts for TV programs that actually got produced. As a producer/reporter for CBC TV in Montreal, she did the gamut of daily news to man on the street interviews. One memorable one was with a 12-year old Hugh Segal in his bedroom as the nascent politician whose letters were already published by the Star and Gazette. Research for guidebooks, whimsically illustrated by Betty Guernsey, led to the Inside Out series and editing and publishing the Rights of the Pregnant Parent and Mind Your Own Business for the entrepreneurial woman. Society’s Child was a record-breaking article for Elm Street Magazine with domestic and international pickup by Readers’ Digest. That was the story that kicked off the worldwide interest in FASD.

Following two years of international research, Bonnie’s book on FASD, Damaged Angels, was published in Canada in 2004 and in the US in 2005. Still in print, this definitive study of parents, professionals, and our own family, continues to provide guidance and solace to families everywhere. 

As an adoptive mother and full-time grandmother, she wove compassion, resolute determination and a dogged work ethic into a rich and satisfying life for me and our extended family. As her partner and collaborator, I often felt like her student. Lessons learned are too numerous and varied to list here. However, my life has been so enriched and challenged that it has been more exciting than I ever could have imagined. 

Today, I can only reflect on what she has given me and strive to keep all those life lessons alive. Bonnie may never realize just how many lives and attitudes she has changed through her work on FASD, but the messages and accolades received over the last quarter century attest to her enduring legacy.

Her work and passion for the children affected by Prenatal Alcohol Exposure will continue because so many have been inspired by her. The damage to individuals and society will continue as long as we remain blind to the scourge of alcohol in pregnancy and as long as our regulators allow the beverage alcohol industry to continue marketing a neurotoxin without warning to vulnerable consumers.

Selfishly, I grieve for the loss of my best friend, companion, lover, advisor and challenger who lifted me from the banality of my intemperate youth to an ongoing quest for new ways to learn and a thirst for knowledge of all kinds. My loss is ambiguous because the physical Bonnie is still with us, as robust as ever, but that brilliant, quirky intelligence has gone dormant. I am dedicated to her dreams, her hopes and her integrity. I miss her more than I can explain. Bonnie didn’t merely save my life; she made my life.

Brian Philcox
2020/02/29

Our Children Must Learn about the FASD Pandemic Early

Although we have been around since 1998, FASworld Canada has campaigned specifically for education about FASD in the classroom since 2016. Bill 172, Education Statute Law Amendment Act (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder), 2020 has recently received First Reading in the Ontario Legislature at Queen’s Park and is a significant baby step forward. This private member’s bill, brought forward by former Premier Kathleen Wynne was inspired by former MPP Sophie Kiwala. If we are to believe the supportive remarks by Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, Todd Smith, then this bill may be on its way to Third Reading and final approval by the Provincial House.

The bill requires boards of education to develop policies and guidelines with respect to FASD. Teachers’ colleges and early childhood education programs shall be required to provide training with respect to FASD.

The volunteers at FASworld began as educators about FASD and as advocates for families and individuals affected by Prenatal Alcohol Exposure in the mid-90s. In 1999, we created FASDay to remind everyone, on the ninth minute of the ninth hour of the ninth day of the ninth month that women should avoid alcohol when planning and during the nine months of pregnancy. Started in Toronto, FASDay is now observed in over 64 countries in every time zone around the world.

Current research advises that FASD is four times as prevalent as we thought. This pandemic affects over 1.5 million Canadians at huge cost to society and at great risk to the family fabric.If children can learn to buckle up, to recycle, to beware of tobacco, they can learn about the dangers of drinking in pregnancy. We must also educate students before they graduate from the faculties of Education, Law, Medicine, and the Social Sciences in readiness for their professional careers.

Including FASD information in existing curricula will not add to the budget burden but will build a better, stronger and more productive citizenry.

Go to http://fasworld.com and click on FASD Advocacy where you can learn how to advocate with elected officials and together, we can change the world, one baby at a time.

The Arrogance of Ignorance

While the Pros and the Cons are having a mother of a time with the SNC Lavalin affaire, the Ontario “Government for the People” is just as happy that the media has forgotten about the Autism furor here. It appears that a new approach to the backlog for Autism services in Ontario has been resolved by eliminating waitlists by throwing a few thousand bucks at the families concerned and telling them to fend for themselves. Lisa McLeod, the Minister for the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services says parents who work together in unpaid support of their children affected by a neurological disorder are nothing more than professional protesters.

We parents are appalled by the ignorance of politicians who denigrate the genuine efforts of those families who fight for the survival of their affected children.

We need inspiration, not put-downs.

What this government and much of the media have missed in this dust-up, is the fact that there is a much bigger health issue that has been ignored. Yes, it’s Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. FASD is well over twice as prevalent as Autism with more than half a million Ontarians struggling with the effects of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure (PAE). Our families coping with the issues of FASD receive no services dedicated to their children’s disabilities. Unless there is some kind of co-morbidity diagnosis for their children, there is no official acknowledgement that this condition exists. Our Special Ed classrooms are burdened with this issue; our justice system is clogged with those whose inability to make the right choices gets them in trouble with the law; and those who do find a diagnosis or get some kind of assistance are aged out at 18 as if they are suddenly cured.

FASD is a lifelong disability for which there is no cure but the appropriate support systems can help those affected to lead socially acceptable lives. We have been advised that our lack of diagnostic services in Ontario means we have a waitlist of over 125 years! Unlike Autism, we know the cause of FASD: it is Prenatal Alcohol Exposure. Do we teach our school children the dangers of drinking alcohol in pregnancy? No. Do we train professionals about FASD before they graduate in the faculties of Education, Law, Medicine and Social Services? No. We have no alcohol policy in Ontario and, in spite of the billions from booze sales by the world’s largest distributor of beverage alcohol, none of it is helping our families.

Go to http://www.fasworld.com and click on Advocacy where you will find the guidelines for educating our politicians about the most common, most expensive, yet most preventable of all mental disorders in the industrialized world. Alcohol is part of our culture but the industry isn’t taking responsibility for its misuse. The costs in dollars is in the billions but the loss in productivity as well as the grief and anguish of parents and other caregivers is even greater.

We need reform and we need it now. Tell your MPP what needs to be done.

The Realities of Truth and Reconciliation

As one of the earlier members of HIP (Honouring Indigenous Peoples), the program created by Rotarian Chris Snyder, I receive the newsletter about projects under way or completed. Today, the following comment by Chris had a special resonance for me.

While people may be getting tired of hearing about the wrongs against Indigenous Peoples, the reality of truth and reconciliation is there will be no reconciliation without fully knowing the truth. Many people do not want to hear it as it makes them feel guilty and uncomfortable. The fact is most of us personally have done nothing to feel guilty about however, in the words of Charlie Coffey, a retired senior Executive with the Royal Bank who has been a very strong supporter of Indigenous Peoples, we need to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable” as it will help us to understand and move us to take action.

Migwetch (Thank You)
Chris Snyder HIP Chairman
Rotary Club of Toronto

Now, what if we said this about FASD? Does talking about avoiding alcohol in pregnancy make you snooze or turn the page? Unless everyone fully knows the truth about prenatal alcohol exposure there will be no progress in the eradication of the most common, most expensive, yet most preventable of all mental disorders in the industrialized world. Too many of us don’t want to hear the facts about drinking in pregnancy because it makes us feel guilty and uncomfortable. If we don’t get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable we won’t ever truly understand and move to take action.

Because FASD has not acquired official status in our society we must reach out to our MPPs and MPs to educate and persuade them to mandate the following:

For Prevention:

  • Provide parenting education instruction by grade seven and into the secondary grades about the danger of FASD;
  • Teach the impact, complexities and challenges of FASD in the faculties of medicine, social sciences, education and law;
  • Mandate all beverage alcohol packaging and promotion to carry warning information about the dangers of prenatal alcohol exposure.

For Screening & Assessment:

  • Expand diagnostic resources, especially for remote communities;
  • Promote screening and early identification through the school boards;
  • Mandate screening and assessment of all individuals interacting with the justice system;

For Treatment & Support:

  • Provide training for parents and caregivers to help them effectively support their children;
  • Ensure access to evidence-informed therapeutic services specific for individuals with FASD and their families;
  • Ensure trained mental health professionals are available for support during crisis periods;
  • Provide access to respite programs as needed for parents and caregivers to avoid burnout and reduce demands on social services.
  • Provide alternative housing & learning centres to help individuals succeed within societal norms.

 

 

 

FASD – Ignore at our peril

When political decision-makers in our society make decisions based on their re-elections, society suffers. I follow the responses to the needs of this who struggle with the most common, most expensive, yet most preventable of all mental disabilities. In my opinion, there have been recent decisions made at the federal and Ontario provincial levels that fall well short of adequate.

Bill C-235 was intended to add FASD to the Criminal code as a mitigating condition for any accused suspected of having some form of brain damage as a result of prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE). Larry Bagnell, Yukon MP, sponsored this private member’s bill but he wasn’t supported by his own Liberal caucus. Some MPs claimed that such a move would be precedent-setting and every other medical acronym would want to be added too. What those MPs did not seem to recognize is the fact that FASD is the only mental disability that is profoundly involved with the justice system because of the lack of a moral core by those who struggle with it. There is no other mental affliction that is so widespread among those incarcerated in our prisons.

The recent Ontario budget finally recognized FASD as a real disability with a token amount of $26 million spread over four years. The emphasis for this new initiative is on research and support for those affected by FASD. The claim is that by creating awareness of this disorder, we will somehow prevent it. In fact, the concerted efforts of volunteer groups around the world have been creating events for the past 20 years to do just that, but our political leaders have done little to support this objective. And the problem continues to grow.

As long as this issue is seen as only a problem for some cranky adoptive and foster parents, there will be no substantive attitude change among the general public. From time-to-time, the mainstream media will do a story in FASD issues but they will also publish ill-informed articles suggesting that light drinking in pregnancy is just fine. Comprehensive, international research has determined that there is no lower threshold for the amount or kind of alcohol throughout the nine months of pregnancy. Anyone who says otherwise is simply an apologist for the beverage alcohol industry.

We need dedicated prevention programs that have the imprimatur of our governments at all levels. Of course, we continue to need support systems for this already affected by PAE. Health Canada assumes that at least 1% of all newborns are affected by PAE. New research suggests that the real prevalence level is somewhere between 3-5%. Yet, even at 1%, we’re looking at over 355,000 Canadians struggling with this disability that costs us the equivalent of the national debt. We panic at the calamities of SARS or the Zika virus that may affect a few thousands, but don’t recognize the pandemic among us.

Here are a few ways that we could challenge the status quo on FASD:

  • Mandatory parenting education at the primary and secondary
    school levels that would include household management, child care techniques, money management, sexual education and FASD;
  • Require all professional training and formal education at the higher education levels to include awareness and understanding of FASD;
  • Expand the diagnostic resources for FASD by funding dedicated clinics throughout the province including Telehealth facilities for remote communities;
  • Provide screening and primary assessment processes for all individuals interacting with the justice system.
  • Investigate the benefits of establishing a world-class skills centre for those affected by prenatal alcohol exposure to help them function in society as productive citizens;
  • Mandate all beverage alcohol packaging and promotion to include warning messages to avoid alcohol when planning and during pregnancy, wherever alcohol is sold;
  • Provide access for families and other caregivers to much-needed respite as these volunteers remove an enormous burden from social resources;
  •   Create an agency within the Ontario Parliament that would oversee and support all educational initiatives relating to FASD in collaboration with the private sector.

It is essential that planning for all initiatives relating to FASD programs include those parents who are caregivers for those struggling with FASD, for they are the true experts on this issue. If we, as a nation, do not implement preventative steps to diminish this scourge, we will only continue to grow a sub-culture of individuals who cannot cope with contemporary society.

An Ontario policy on FASD?

My MPP, Mitzie Hunter, reports that The Ministry of Children and Youth Services (MCYS) is transforming the child and youth mental health system through the ‘Moving on Mental Health’ plan. Lead agencies are an integral aspect of this transformation. Their role will be to coordinate efforts locally for the 34 geographic service areas in the province.

As it happens, Bonnie, Linda Rosenbaum and I met with the parliamentary secretary to the MCYS Minister yesterday to outline the current state of FASD in Ontario. Granville Anderson is doing some preliminary  consulting about this issue and has promised to keep us informed of developments and would continue to bring us into the conversation as the consultation process continues.

Here are some of the key points we reviewed with Mr. Anderson and his Executive Assistant, Ian McMillan:

General FASD Picture

  • High numbers of Ontarians struggling with FASD: invisible; undiagnosed; limited resources
  • High cost of FASD to our society for education, social services, health and justice systems
  • No apparent provincial policy to deal with FASD crisis

Our experience

  • Hands-on experience coping with 2 generations with FASD
  • Created and facilitated FASworld Toronto family support group since 1998
  • We are all volunteers; no core funding
  • Created FASDay in 1999; now observed in 42 countries in every time zone
  • FASD caregivers have saved this province millions

What Ontario needs           

  • Partnership with FASworld to expand awareness and understanding of FASD
  • Education system must recognize that FASD is a learning disability and teaching programs must be adapted to meet the needs of those affected
  • Diagnostic services must be expanded to serve all communities – not just major centres
  • Supportive housing combine with skills training for “hands-on” vocations as an alternative to incarceration

Next steps

  • Let’s link all appropriate ministries on this issueAs well, we left this letter with the Parliamentary Secretary:

Dear Mr. Anderson,

FASD: The most common, most expensive, yet most preventable of all mental disorders in the industrialized world. (Dr. Christine Loock)

Today’s Youth Crisis Issue

Ontario youth are struggling with high unemployment, multiple interactions with the justice system, and growing use of street drugs and binge drinking of alcohol. The delegation of Rosenbaum, Buxton and Philcox are here to present a brief analysis of the current crisis along with a number of remedial recommendations.

Linda Rosenbaum, Bonnie Buxton and her husband Brian Philcox are adoptive parents of children with learning and behaviour problems caused by prenatal alcohol.  The umbrella term for this condition is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). Health Canada acknowledges that at least one out of one hundred live births have some form of FASD in Canada. This represents 136,000 youth and adults in Ontario. Any other health condition of this proportion would constitute a pandemic. Yet, governments across Canada appear to be indifferent to the scope and depth of this issue. Of greater concern is the fact that current research is finding that the prevalence rate for FASD in North America is more likely between 2 & 5%.

Because typical individuals with FASD cost our society around $2 million each in their lifetimes, we have an unbudgeted debt of billions annually for special education, police, and the criminal justice system, health care and welfare.  In other words, between 1.4 million to 7 million Ontario residents currently struggle with FASD, and most of them will never be diagnosed. Until this issue is addressed responsibly, we will continue to have an unwieldy cost burden on our society, continued high youth unemployment and a devastatingly high incidence of drug and alcohol abuse.

In brief, here is what our children need:

  • Early diagnosis;
  • Special classrooms for FASD;
  • Training skills for “hands-on” occupations;
  • Understanding of the mental deficits of our children with FASD from the education and justice systems

Here is what parents/caregivers need:

  • Respite;
  • Back-up support (Community Kinfolk);
  • Post diagnosis resources;
  • Supplementary funding for support costs (prior to ODSP)

What our communities need:

Better awareness and understanding of the ramifications of maternal drinking in pregnancy.

Since 1998, Buxton and Philcox have worked as full-time volunteers to support families of children with FASD, and to build awareness of this issue. They created two charities, FASworld Toronto, a support group which meets monthly at the Hospital for Sick Children; and FASworld Canada, a national charity. In 1999, we created International FASD Awareness Day (FASDay), observed on September 9 in innumerable communities in 42 countries around the world.  On the 9th minute of the 9th hour of the 9th day of the 9th month, we ask the world to remember that during the nine months of pregnancy, a woman should not consume alcohol.

Adoptive parents Bonnie Buxton and Linda Rosenbaum are both journalists.  Buxton’s book, Damaged Angels, was published in

Canada and the U.S. in 2004 and continues to provide parents, professionals and other caregivers with understanding and guidelines for coping with FASD.  Rosenbaum’s critically reviewed charming book, Not Exactly As Planned, about her adoptive son, Michael, was published in 2014.

What FASworld Needs:

  • Financial Support (ongoing operating expenses)
  • Executive Director (full or part-time)
  • Workshop/Training Opportunities (target: professionals/decisionmakers)
  • Provincial partnerships for our media events (e.g. FASDay)

What more can be done:

  • Labeling on beverage alcohol containers
  • Better info in LCBO stores (see our Baby Bump campaign which ran briefly in LCBO stores this past September)
  • Better government info for distribution by medical profession
  • Assistance in developing data on alcohol abuse vs the cost of health services, incarceration and youth unemployment
  • Ongoing relationship improvements with the beverage alcohol industry to eliminate resistance to education about maternal drinking in pregnancy
  • Designate FASD as a learning disability within the education system

These suggestions are respectfully submitted for discussion and further action in collaboration with the Ministry of Children and Youth Services and other Ontario ministries as appropriate.

The Beer Store: A Political Satire (Not!)

Satire can be a wonderful leveling agent: pricking the pompous; deflating the pious. Yet, to be truly effective, it must be deft, clever and relevant. Charlie Hebdo may have been all of these, but I’m not very familiar with that body of work.

What I did see yesterday was a full page editorial in the Jan. 10/15 Globe and Mail that branded itself, The Beer Store: A Political Satire. If you have to identify an item thus, is it truly satire or merely mockery?

Based on the underlying  assumption that The Beer Store is a total cock-up, the editorial suggests that if this enterprise is so great, wouldn’t it be droll to use the same business formula for grocery stores, restaurants, convenience stores and so on. Now I have no brief for the brewers’ warehouse operation but I’m finding the discussion around this subject rather specious. What the writer doesn’t seem to be aware of is the fact that beer – along with other beverage alcohol products – is a teratogen* that requires management and control. Whether the public should be able to buy beer anywhere, in any size container is moot. The real issue is whether anyone, at any age, in any condition can buy beer at any time.

Beverage alcohol may be abused and, as a semi-controlled substance, The Beer Store provides a reasonable, well-managed, safe delivery system. I have no interest in beer or any other beverage alcohol being delivered by a kid on a bike to a home address for anyone who has simply phoned in the order.

Cheap booze will never serve society well. Although alcohol sales provide important revenues to our provincial and federal governments, we may be well advised to match those revenues against the health, education and justice system costs of dealing with alcohol abuse.

Do we really need to have alcohol available in every corner store? Do the cravings of some of us demand that brewers, distillers and vintners set up delivery systems for every single retail outlet that wants it? Will every one of those outlets provide the same kinds of variety and safe management process we now get from The Beer Store and the LCBO?

The Beer Store has always been run by the major brewers in Canada. The fact that our major breweries are now foreign owned is a factor of globalization and consolidation of organizations for optimum profit. Isn’t that what our so-called free enterprise capitalist system is supposed to be about? The fact that the media are now complaining about a situation that has been well-established for decades seems a little hypocritical, don’t you think? Or do they all just want cheap booze?

*Teratogen: a neurotoxin that inhibits brain cell development and the neuropathways of the brain.