Shining the light on fetal alcohol syndrome

049. Zero alcohol for nine months. It's a new campaign through the Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and Becker County Initiative and Mahube Community Council have partnered to bring awareness to the area.

049. Zero alcohol for nine months. It's a new campaign through the Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and Becker County Initiative and Mahube Community Council have partnered to bring awareness to the area.

With the help of a $1,500 grant, committee members are getting information out to mothers and fathers alike "with the mission that (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) is 100 percent preventable," said Fran Rethwisch, Becker County Early Childhood Initiative coordinator and Mahube EHS/HS disabilities director.

"So many things are not within our control with development. This is totally within our control and preventable," she said.

One person who understands firsthand the challenges of children with FASD is Carolyn Strnad.

Strnad has experience in FAS both in her professional and personal life. As the MOFAS regional family resource coordinator, Strnad sits on a committee with Rethwisch and a few other community members.


"My role here in the community is to provide public awareness, education and support families raising children on the spectrum," she said.

Through her involvement with MOFAS, she was able to bring the Childhood Initiative committee information about the $1,500 MOFAS grant.

Diane McCormack, pediatric occupational therapist with Essentia Health St. Mary's, was instrumental in applying for the grant and receiving it.

"We wanted to have an event for the younger group, 14-21, where they could come and have young men at an earlier age be aware of what happens with alcohol exposure," McCormack said.

And then they would host another activity for the 20-to-30-year-olds to inform them as well. The events were to include men, to encourage them to "help support their significant other, if you were the father, to not drink themselves during their wife or girlfriend's pregnancy."

The process for the grant has evolved since the application, and with time running out for two other plans, the group decided to link the awareness event with the Week of the Young Child event, which is April 10-16.

"We chose Week of the Young Child because the community rallies around that week and it's most appropriate that week," said Anna Muzik, Mahube Early Head Start Health Director.

The Children's Initiative committee was established with members Rethwisch, Strnad, Muzik, Tami Skinner, (Mahube Early Head Start/Head Start Home Base and Family Childcare Coordinator) and Shelley Skarie (ALC TAPP & Partners in Parenting (PIP) Coordinator/Instructor.)


"I'm just here to support that event in anyway I can," Strnad said.

On the personal side, Strnad and her husband have been foster parents for 20 years in Clay County, eventually adopting three children who have FASD.

"They've been impacted by pre-natal use of alcohol in different ways," she said. "That's the nature of it. It's really what's developing at that time that the pregnant mom takes a drink is going to be impacted or disrupted or just not developed fully within that baby."

She said some of the challenges her family has faced include secondary mental health issues, which are fairly common in children with FAS, and memory.

"It does take them longer to learn many of the things their school needs them to. They can learn, it just takes them a little bit longer. They need a lot of repetitive teaching strategies," she said.

With the kids they've fostered over the years, she said some are more independent out in the community than others, because of the judgment from others and making the right decisions based on remembering rules.

So knowing the challenges, why would the Strnads decide to adopt? She said it's a question she doesn't necessarily have an answer to.

"The stars aligned and it seemed to be in the best interests (of everyone)," she said with a laugh. "Sometimes these kids go in and out of your lives, and sometimes they just stay. These three particular children just stayed."


When they started taking foster kids 20 years ago -- they also have four birth children -- FAS was different. It wasn't diagnosed as it is today and there wasn't nearly the awareness there is today.

"We really took it upon ourselves to study what Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is and how best to work best with those kids," she said. "Not that we have all the answers, but we felt that we were pretty equipped to meet the demands and challenges these kids have."

Strnad said when their daughter was young and they wanted to have her diagnosed with FAS, the doctor asked why they would want her to have that label.

"Our thought was if it helps us understand how she operates and how her brain works, if it helps us obtain services that she needs, it's not really a label. It's identifying what challenges our child has."

Now though, doctors ask questions and are apt to refer patients, making it a more widely accepted and discussed syndrome.

"One of the critical pieces we need to look at in this region is more capacity for the diagnostic piece of (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder)," Strnad said. "Without that, our families often have to travel a distance and that can be a barrier."

The biggest challenge is working with pregnant mothers, she said. It's up to the mothers to stop drinking while they are pregnant.

With the grant from MOFAS, the Children Initiative committee is hosting several events to bring awareness to pregnant mothers and fathers.


  • There will be an informational booth April 7 during the Head Start-sponsored community event "Making the best of time with your family" with Dr. Dorrance (Dorry) Larson.

Registration for the event begins at 6 p.m., with the event from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at M State, Detroit Lakes. All children will receive a free children's book donated by the Becker County Early Childhood Initiative. There will be door prizes for adults.

  • An event based on the campaign "Love Ya Baby! 049 Zero Alcohol for Nine Months." "Prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder" will be the topic by an engaging and hands-on presenter, Mary Jo Hofer, on April 12 from 3-5 p.m.

Pizza and parfaits will be served following the presentation. Many prizes including car seats and T-shirts will be given out. It will be at Mahube Community Council Inc., Detroit Lakes.

  • Following the Children's Week of the Young Child Parade, on April 15 from 3-5 p.m. there will be an awareness and informational booth set up during the Spring Fest family activities in the Washington Square Mall. Adults can sign up to receive prizes, and learn more about FASD and prevention.

There will be additional events in the spring as well.
"We need to provide an environment where birth moms feel safe coming forward and saying, 'gosh, I didn't know (I was pregnant) and I had a drink. Could this maybe be some of the reasons why my child is not developing like the neighborhood kid,'" Strnad said.

"It's a serious topic, so we want to make it fun and in a non-judgmental way," Rethwisch said. "Anyone who is even thinking they might be a parent in the future" is welcome to come for information.

"We hope this is the start of ongoing awareness," she added.

For more information on MOFAS and FASD, contact Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome or 1-866-90-MOFAS (66327).

This is the first in a series of stories featuring issues surrounding children, leading up to the Week of the Young Child April 10-16.

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