Initiative aims to prevent fetal alcohol exposure

Apr 21, 2016

Prenatal alcohol exposure is 100 percent preventable. Yet, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders — the range of lifelong adverse effects associated with prenatal alcohol exposure — affect up to 5 percent of children born in the U.S.

NASW, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and several schools and agencies are launching a strategic cross-discipline partnership to prevent FASDs.

The goal is to promote the dissemination and implementation of evidence-based clinical practices to impede FASDs, which remain the leading preventable cause of birth defects and intellectual and neurodevelopmental disabilities.

NASW, in partnership with the University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work, the University of Missouri and Baylor College of Medicine are members of the national social work discipline team led by NASW member Sandra Gonzalez, a clinical social worker and instructor at Baylor College of Medicine.

Gonzales said the initiative aims to build strategic, multidisciplinary partnerships to bridge the “research to practice” gap in FASDs prevention.

“Social workers along with doctors, nurses, medical assistants and other health professionals have to work together to implement, facilitate and deliver routine alcohol screening and counseling to prevent FASDs,” Gonzales said.

The new emphasis on helping clients succeed with an interprofessional team approach is broadening the role of the health care social worker.

“Health care reform has ushered in an increased appreciation of — and demand for — the contributions of social workers in primary and integrated health care settings,” she explained. “As an integral part of the medical team, social workers are well positioned to deliver evidence-based screening and brief interventions to women who are at risk of an alcohol-exposed pregnancy.”

“Social work is working alongside family medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, medical assistants, and nursing toward the shared key goal of implementing practice change to prevent alcohol-exposed pregnancies and thereby reduce the incidence and lifelong impacts of FASDs,” she said.

Gonzales noted that NASW, as the largest professional organization for social work practitioners in the U.S., is uniquely positioned to work along with the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and the American Academy of Pediatrics to represent clinical disciplines that have a key role in FASDs prevention and identification services.

“NASW’s communication, dissemination and continuing education opportunities and its broad reach to social work practitioners is critical to our success,” Gonzales said.

This joint venture creates a vehicle for increasing the number of social workers who receive training and education regarding the adoption and sustainability of universal screening and intervention strategies to prevent FASDs, she added.

Among the initiatives’ key objectives is the development of a comprehensive website for health care professionals and a battery of setting- and discipline-specific training courses.

“We will also be working with NASW and colleagues from other disciplines to identify how new science developed in the field can inform policy, practice guidelines, and credentialing that lead to practice change,” Gonzales said.

From the April 2016 NASW News