UW News

October 4, 2001

March of Dimes funding supports program to prevent fetal alcohol syndrome

By Walter Neary
HS News & Community Relations 

The Parent-Child Assistance Program (P-CAP) at the UW has received funding from the March of Dimes Washington State Chapter for a project called “Prevent Double Jeopardy” that will provide services to women who have a birth defect. The goal is to protect the next generation of children from this same debilitating birth defect.

The birth defect is fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), a permanent condition caused by maternal use of alcohol during pregnancy. It is one of the leading causes of mental retardation in the United States, and yet is entirely preventable.

“Women who themselves have FAS or fetal alcohol effect and become pregnant have a high likelihood of drinking during pregnancy and producing yet another generation of children who are also damaged by prenatal alcohol exposure,” says Dr. Therese Grant, P-CAP director and research assistant professor in the School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.

The March of Dimes was the first major health organization to recommend not drinking during pregnancy, and March of Dimes initiated the first state network of FAS diagnostic sites in Washington in 1994. More people are now being diagnosed with FAS, Grant says, but their needs go unmet because community service networks are unfamiliar with the unique characteristics, capabilities and requirements of these people as adolescents and adults.

P-CAP is an award-winning intervention model originally funded in 1991 as a federal research project. The program has proven to be highly effective in intervening with pregnant and postpartum mothers who abuse alcohol and drugs, in order to prevent future births of children affected prenatally by these substances.

On the basis of positive outcomes, in 1996 P-CAP won the support of the state lawmakers, who have paid for expansion of the program to King, Pierce, Yakima, and Spokane counties. P-CAP paraprofessional advocates help high-risk mothers and children – who are commonly low income and alienated from community providers – to access and utilize quality services. Particular emphasis is placed on accessing substance abuse treatment, prenatal care, family planning, child health and developmental resources, and housing.

P-CAP has enrolled a small number of women who themselves have a diagnosis of FAS. Because of their permanent, organic brain damage, they have different capacities, needs, and potentials than the clients P-CAP has traditionally served. Research indicates that FAS patients can be at increased risk for problems with alcohol and drugs, housing, employment and legal issues.

The March of Dimes gift of $24,869 will allow a P-CAP clinical social worker to collaborate with community providers in King and Pierce Counties to develop specialized strategies to help these women find and utilize appropriate services.

“Thanks to March of Dimes, we expect to improve the quality of life for individuals affected by fetal alcohol syndrome, to prevent the births of future alcohol-damaged children, and collaborate with community providers to increase services for individuals affected by prenatal alcohol exposure,” Grant says.