A leading child health researcher is helping police officers in regional Western Australia have safer interactions with people who have neurological conditions such as foetal alcohol spectrum disorders or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
- One in three people in WA youth detention are living with FASD, the highest known estimate in the world among justice-involved youth, the Telethon Kids Institute found
- Telethon Kids Institute’s Dr Hayley Passmore devised program with researchers at Banksia Hill Detention Centre
- Course provides training on how to interact with people with FASD, cognitive impairment
In 2015, the prevalence of such disorders in remote Aboriginal communities in the Fitzroy Valley was found to be the highest in Australia, and these disorders are believed to be widespread across northern Western Australia.
Telethon Kids Institute’s Dr Hayley Passmore has received funding to train Kimberley officers on how to better manage their encounters with vulnerable residents.
The program, Reframe Training, was devised to help frontline staff interact with young people who have neurological impairments by helping workers better understand the behaviour.
A neurological impairment — such as foetal alcohol spectrum disorder [FASD] or attention deficit hyper-activity disorder [ADHD] — can cause individuals to struggle with their emotions and with communicating.
These challenges can lead to life-altering encounters with frontline workers, such as police, who may not understand the implications of the person’s impairment.
Reframe builds awareness
After serving nearly five years in prison, Mr Gibson was released and awarded $1.3 million as compensation for wrongful imprisonment.
It’s these kinds of outcomes Dr Passmore is trying to avoid through her training, which involves group discussions, lectures and peer-to-peer learning.
Dr Passmore said the aim of Reframe was to provide valuable context that helped officers understand why a person with a neurological impairment might exhibit different behaviours.
“[Reframe] provides frontline staff with information about behaviours that young people might have, if they’re struggling in an area of neurodevelopment, and strategies that [police] can use when they’re engaging and supporting these young people,” she said.
“[Frontline staff] really need to be aware of these impairments and then be able to adapt their practices and their approaches to meet the young person’s developmental level.”
It was knowledge that, Dr Passmore said, was in high demand from Kimberley officers.
‘Neurodisabilities’ prominent in offenders
A Telethon Kids Institute study from 2018 found 89 per cent of inmates at Banksia Hill Juvenile Detention Centre had some form of neurological impairment.
Of those, 36 per cent were found to have FASD, the highest-known prevalence of this cluster of disorders in a corrective setting anywhere in the world.
Research leader, UWA’s Professor Carol Bower, said such impairments affected key areas of an inmate’s brain functions.
“The sorts of domains we’re talking about,” Professor Bower said at the time, “are problems with executive function, such as not being able to relate cause and effect, or to plan, and problems with memory, cognition, motor skills, attention, social skills and adaptive behaviour.
Researchers used the report to call for early intervention for these young people before they entered the justice system.
Reframe Training was piloted at Banskia Hill in 2018, where it had a noticeable difference on staff, Dr Passmore said.
“We saw significant improvements in staff knowledge and awareness and attitudes towards young people with FASD and a range of other neuro disabilities as well,” she said.
There were also promising signs that staff were willing to change their practices to meet the needs of the young people at the centre.
With support from the Kimberley Brain and Mind Foundation, Dr Passmore is planning to hold sessions in the region between August and October.