Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders in America, Pt. 2: The Financial Impact
The Chronicle of Social Change is featuring a five-part series on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders from Helen Ramaglia, an advocate for foster youth and a member of our Blogger Co-Op. Click here to read Part 1.
Families of children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) must deal with a multitude of issues touching every facet of their lives. In addition to addressing the immediate physical and educational needs of their child, families must also identify long-range strategies to ensure these needs are met throughout the lifetime of the child.
Diagnosis can be difficult, and finding effective medications and therapies is a challenge. In the three decades since Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) was first identified, billions of dollars have been spent caring for those affected.
So what are the societal costs of FASD? “Very little data are available” on the subject, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Center for Excellence. The center identified 30 reports and 80 websites that made reference to some estimates, many of which originate in research from the 1980s and 1990s.
Those estimates are all over the place. The National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS) uses the number $5.4 billion as an annual cost for just Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. SAMHSA’s review put the majority of estimates between $2.3 billion and $4.7 billion.
Here is how the impact is felt financially in one state. According to Florida Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Resource Guide, Florida spends an estimated $78,918,000 annually to provide special education and juvenile justice services to children 5-18 years affected by FAS and FAE. This amounts to an estimated $914,183 spent per day for these services (www.online-clinic.com/calculator.php).
Then there’s the individual cost for a child with a spectrum disorder, which are shouldered by both taxpayers and families. For an individual child, the average health costs over a lifetime is $860,000 and can reach up to $4.2 million, according to the organization.
According to the FAS Community Resource Center, the estimated expected lifetime costs for one child with FAS is approximately $5 million dollars, including the following breakout:
• $1,508,000 for medical and dental care
• $1,376,000 for residential placement
• $624,000 for supported employment
• $530,000 for psychiatric care
• $360,000 for foster care and respite care
• $240,000for special education
• $360,000 for Supplemental Security Income
The costs often do not stop with those related to sound body and mind. Individuals with FAS often become involved with the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Information on the costs of the juvenile and criminal system for individuals with FAS is not available, and costs cannot be assigned since there are no widely used screening, or diagnostic tools to identify the numbers of affected persons within the systems. But it is safe to say that the costs associated with law enforcement, court and incarceration related to crimes committed by those with FASD are significant.
Many individuals with FAS are highly susceptible to substance abuse problems and costs incurred for rehabilitation is significant.
Individuals with FAS or any alcohol-related birth defect need, and use special education and vocational support services. Therefore, future studies will show higher costs when these other cost categories are included.
By any measure, the costs of FAS to society and for alcohol-affected individuals are extremely high and clearly justify major prevention efforts. There is an obvious need for awareness and education at the high school and college level, where children are often first introduced to alcohol.
Cost of prevention will greatly impact billions of taxpayer dollars every year and the number of children living with the devastating effects of FAS will decline considerably.
Check back soon for Part 3
Helen Ramaglia is a foster alumni who became a foster/adoptive parent. She is the founder and Director of Fostering Superstars, a Congressional Award Winner for her work with foster children and is the author of “From Foster to Fabulous”. She is a popular speaker, trainer and advocate for foster children.
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