Children at Western Australia’s sole juvenile detention centre will participate in a study to determine if they have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).
Researchers are developing a FASD screening test to be used on 200 youths, aged between 10 and 17, with the permission of their guardians and assistance from the Department of Corrective Services.
Research leader Professor Carol Bower told AAP she hoped the juveniles at Banksia Hill would be receptive to answering questions and being examined by a health professional before a diagnosis was reached.
“With some earlier identification, it is hoped that some alternative sentencing strategies might be more appropriate for these kids,” she said.
Prof Bower said the information gleaned from the research would also help people caring for the juveniles to better manage them and their needs.
She said the goal was to identify those with FASD before they reached detention.
FASD was caused by the fetus being exposed to alcohol during pregnancy and could cause neurological disabilities that led to problems with development, learning and behaviour, Prof Bower said.
Such problems could make the child easily led and less able to make judgements.
In rare cases, people with FASD also had heart and kidney birth defects, she said.
Prof Bower said researchers could modify the FASD screening test to be used much earlier in a child’s contact with the justice system, hopefully preventing them from going to prison as adults.
She said studies from North America suggested youths with FASD were 19 times more likely to be imprisoned than youths without the condition.
About 60 per cent of people with FASD over the age of 12 had been charged with or convicted of a criminal offence, Prof Bower said.