Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a lifelong condition caused by consumption of alcohol whilst pregnant which results in the infant having permanent brain damage. This often happens even before the woman knows she is pregnant. 
The Aboriginal elders in the remote Fitzroy Valley in the Northeast of Western Australia requested support from Dr James Fitzpatrick, a local paediatrician, as they did not want their grandchildren to have the same issues with FASD as their children. Dr James, as he is affectionately known by the children, established PATCHES Paediatrics (PATCHES) and, working collaboratively with the Aboriginal people, set up a pilot study.
Incidence of FASD in the Fitzroy Valley
In the early stages of the study, 19% of infants in the Fitzroy Valley were diagnosed with FASD, utilising the co-ordinated team assessment approach. The PATCHES-June Oscar (Local Aboriginal Elder)  intervention model was unique because it crossed traditional service boundaries, co-ordinating local community, health, disability, child protection, education, police and justice to achieve results.
50% Reduction of women taking alcohol in pregnancy
This collaborative approach and having Aboriginal people supporting the community has led to the successful decrease of alcohol consumption from 65% to 15% over 8-years for Aboriginal (First Nations People) & non-indigenous pregnant women.
This approach is successfully being utilised in a limited number of other areas in the Kimberley, Pilbara and Perth, however funding was limited to only children with an intellectual or physical disability including severe FASD.
To help more children and their families in another area of WA receive these specialised services, with the support and collaboration of local people, the model needs to be tailored to the local population and supports replicated.
After consultations with Aboriginal people, WACHS, and a number of local agencies, Rotary Clubs of WA (Led by the Rotary Club of Osborne Park) chose to support a community in the Leonora area, 237 Kms from Kalgoorlie.  The local community and service organisations were consulted and were keen to work with Rotary and PATCHES in ‘Making FASD History” in their community.
Rotary involvement – Moving forward in Leonora/Goldfields to Make FASD History
The Rotary Club of Osborne Park, in collaboration with a number of other WA Rotary Clubs and Rotary District 9455’s Aboriginal Reference Group, set up a Project Management Committee and established a pilot project in Leonora in January 2019.  Rotary is working with PATCHES and the local people to prevent, diagnose and support up to 100-120 children.
Community participation, including the employment of a local Aboriginal support worker, is a key part of the project. If successful in this community, then, with local involvement, similar supports could be expanded to other Goldfields communities.
Thanks to our sponsors, especially the Children's Orchard Foundation, Healthway, Minara Community Foundation, Stan Perron Foundation and the Goldfields Australia Foundation, Rotary will be working with Patches Paediatrics over a total of 2 years from January 2019 to September 2021 (extended by time lost during the Covid-19 Pandemic Lockdown in WA). The program being implemented  is comprehensive, holistic and wrap-around in nature, consisting of the following elements:
  • Strong community prevention services that will minimise foetal exposure to alcohol,
  • A recognised diagnostic service that identifies children with FASD,
  • A treatment service that individually tailors early intervention to minimise the impacts of FASD,
  • A network of support services to families and carers, regional service providers and professionals that ensures relevant support and appropriate local service responses, and
  • Through the use of evaluation the project will identify improvements while demonstrating that the holistic program can achieve effective outcomes for children, their families/carers and the local communities at an economic cost.
The members of the Project Management Committee are:
  • Louise Hancock (Chair & Past President Rotary Club of Osborne Park)
  • Brian Hancock (Treasurer and Past President Rotary Club of Osborne Park) –
  • Bruce Dufty (Chair of D9455 Aboriginal Reference Group, Rotary Club of Western Endeavour)
  • Dawn Brodie (Rotary Club of Osborne Park & Member of D9455 Aboriginal Reference Group)
  • Bob de Bijl (Rotary Club of Mandurah)
  • Darren Wallace (Representing the Rotary Clubs of Kalgoorlie & Boulder, Rotary Club of Boulder)  and Frank Andinach (who replaced Darren as the representative for the Rotary Clubs of Kalgoorlie & Boulder when Darren was transferred by his employer to York, WA)
  • Fiona McFarlane (Rotary Club of Kalamunda) – she has resigned in 2020 and has not been replaced.
A number of Rotary Clubs in Western Australia are also raising funds and donating regularly to the project.
The Rotary ‘Making FASD History’ project was planned to operate for 2 years at a cost of $525,000. However, when Healthway joined the project as a sponsor in late-2019, they funded additional preventative options which meant the total budget changed to $583,006. PATCHES has developed a plan to ensure ongoing funding of the project after two years, should it be demonstrated to be a success.
Project Progress
The project consisted of three components, a diagnosis element which was primarily to provide the research on the prevalence of FASD, a treatment program to assist those affected by FASD and teach the local health practitioners how to treat them, and a community educational program to reduce the incidence of alcohol consumption during pregnancy and consequently prevent FASD.  To date, diagnoses have confirmed our suspicions, close to 20% of the children in the under-12 years cohort have FASD. FASD education for service providers, teachers and the local community has been ongoing since April 2019 (excluding the Covid-19 lockdown). The early intervention support program for children with FASD and their families was delayed until there was a critical mass of referrals to the NDIS/NDIA program for support funding. Management of NDIS/NDIA funding is problematic and negotiations are occurring so that these support services can commence.
Bruce Dufty is a Community Change Agent and has been visiting Leonora every 6-9 weeks. He is working with the entire community (Aboriginal and Non-indigenous). His primary focus is working with elders and local Aboriginals to develop their trust and voluntary input into the various components of the Program to ensure that each element is culturally appropriate and tailored to the unique requirements of the Leonora community. The major tasks have been the establishment of the Leonora Aboriginal Residents and Community Group that is aimed at empowering the aboriginal community to take ownership of local issues, to be a voice for the community; to reconnect people to their different cultures according to the strength of cultural identification; and to pursue strength-based community development initiatives that permit the community to re-instate their values-base and be in a position to make positive decisions for themselves – in short, to increase their feelings of self-worth and confidence in their expertise to make positive decisions for themselves. 
While the Community Group is being established as an Aboriginal Corporation, a range of consistent initiatives have been put in place:
  • The Shire, Aboriginal community and liquor outlets have been encouraging responsible drinking with varying degrees of success though:
  1. The use of a Federal Government supported Cashless Welfare Card,
  2. Voluntary agreements to restrict access to take-away liquor to specified hours during each day, and
  3. Exploring an electronic tracking model developed in the Kimberley that restricts access to Liquor.
  • FASD Education of Leonora District School’s teaching and support staff on “how to work with “Children having FASD”.
  • Preparations to produce four to six television/internet 30-second advertisements providing general FASD education and promoting responsible drinking. The films are being made by an animator and a media teacher and film producer in Kalgoorlie who will use his students in the production of the film as part of their general education.
  • Supporting the local Youth Group to offer strength-based teaching to Aboriginal and Non-Indigenous children 7-14 years on an ongoing basis. Attendance numbers have increased. During the past four years this program has significantly reduced the number of children wandering the streets of the town each night.
  • Supporting the Youth Group to offer “Hip Hop Dance” training as part of their program.
  • Supporting the local “zoo” to offer animal care and horse-riding experiences in collaboration with the local Youth Group.
  • Supporting two trainers in the conduct of sex education programs to offer 10-week strength-based teaching to two groups, i.e. 8-14 year-olds and 15-19 year-olds. The 15-19 year-olds have already completed the course.
  • Supporting the local school and an Aboriginal Indigenous Education Officer (AEIO) to introduce some cultural education in the school (e.g. culture, animal care and language training). Two impacts already noted are the improved relations between Aboriginal and Non-Indigenous families and the increasing number of girls pursuing a secondary High school education.  Most boys continue to leave school when they complete their primary education. The school’s inability to attract male teacher role models does not help in addressing this issue. On the other-hand, the Youth Group’s male role models have sustained some continued male attendance in their programs, which will probably increase further if the Youth Group can achieve financial sustainability and offer a more sport oriented 15-19 year-old program.
  •  Encouraging existing services to offer Aboriginal Support groups (e.g. Men’s Group) and encouraging a naturally occurring Women’s Yarning and Craft group.
  • Encouraging employers to offer part-time employment to Aboriginal people in the town.  The Aboriginals are able to assist these providers with advice in respect to tailoring their services to the client population. However, well-meaning Social Security and Housing policies continue to impede most potential employees from working more that 0.5 to 2 days per week. Over the last four years the number of largely part-time Aboriginal workers have increased from 14 to 32, and Aboriginal workers in Mining industries have doubled.
  • Asking questions of the Water Authorities regarding the water quality for Leonora has resulted in nitrate filtering being put in place in both Leonora and Laverton.
  • Engaging with the Federal Government to examine options for tailoring  social security support to Aboriginal people in remote communities.
  • Supporting Aboriginal representatives to commence discussions with the State Department of Housing regarding policies that impact negatively on Aboriginal residents in remote communities. 
Community development is not free of difficult issues that seem ever-present:
  • A high proportion of Aboriginal Residents have experienced significant transitional stress (including Post-Traumatic Stress) in their lives. This means that they are susceptible to misjudging social Interactions, perceiving threat where exists which leads them to destructively attacking their peers.  Modelling and teaching of critical community members appear to be producing changes, but it only takes a single incident to destroy mutual trust, necessitating a whole new process of training and support.
  • Many, if not most, Government policies, plans and implementation strategies have been prepared from a Western Cultural perspective and therefor are not tailored to culture and the unique characteristics of remote communities.  Many policy makers do not know how to engage with a different culture – hence, there is no Aboriginal voice - the culture has little to input into what is designed and imposed on them. This is very destructive on their feelings of wellbeing, motivation and expressing their aspirations.
  • Skilled role models and leaders are few in number, because whilst some community members have a reasonable knowledge base appropriate to their culture, few have been able to get the experience and the recognition necessary to perform as experts in their own right.
  • Some Aboriginals have genuinely not thought through their aspirations when asked to express them – because being asked to do so is foreign to them. Often they need a period to discuss the request with the person asking and to consult community peers, before they can a firmly and confidently  expression their aspiration/s.  Sometimes they may give a hasty answer reflecting what their culture was like as opposed to their culture’s current developmental stage, which leads to them making significant changes to their initial response at a later date (e.g. recommending the use of a language which is used by many members of the community but later realizing that some targetted people in their community are not sufficiently fluent to understand the language in its verbal and/written form).
Opportunity to speak
If you would like a guest speaker or would like to discuss the Rotary “Making FASD History” project further, please contact:
Bruce Dufty – Chairperson of the Rotary Aboriginal Reference Group (0421 735 372) or
Dawn Brodie – Member of the Rotary Aboriginal Reference Group (0432 988 632)
Financial donations are continuing to be made to this project. Funds are being tied to specific community development issues until September 2021 when the project is complete. Please contact Bruce Dufty, Louise Hancock if you wish to tie your donation to a specific service.
Many Rotary Clubs have contributed donations “in-kind” which Bruce transports each time he travels, or he arranges though companies who can assist.  Examples of “in-kind” to date have been Qantas blankets (suitable for change of seasons);  new woollen blankets and second-hand doonas (especially for winter); Christmas celebration shoe boxes and gifts for children and youth; first aid kits (for families who complete first-aid courses with the local ambulance service); some books young children; second-hand spectacles; School uniforms;  beanies; and different coloured towels (not white).
Louise Hancock
Chairperson: Rotary ‘Making FASD History’ project team
Past President Rotary Club of Osborne Park
Ph +61 423 169 226
Bruce Dufty
Member of the Rotary ‘Making FASD History’ project team, and
Chairperson of Rotary District 9455’s Aboriginal Reference Group
Ph +61 421 735 372
Dawn Brodie
Member of the Rotary ‘Making FASD History’ project team.
Committee member of Rotary District 9455’s Aboriginal Reference Group
Ph: 0432 988 632
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS - Participating Organisations and Sponsors:
- Rotary Club of Osborne Park (primary support Club)
- Rotary Clubs of Boulder and Kalgoorlie
- Rotary Club of Kalamunda
- Rotary Club of Western Endeavour
- Rotary Club of Mandurah
- Rotary Club of Pinjarra
- Rotary Club of Dalkeith
- Rotary District 9455’s Aboriginal Reference Group
- Rotary District 9455
- Albany Children’s Orchid Foundation
- Stan Perron Foundation
- Rotary International Global Grant
- Individual Rotarians and Private Citizens
Thanks to our sponsors, especially the Children's Orchard Foundation, Healthway, Minara Community Foundation, Stan Perron Foundation and the Goldfields Australia Foundation.
 More information