Exploring Offending Characteristics of Young People with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in Western Australia

Ms Grace Kuen Yee Tan1,2,3, Associate Professor Carmela Pestell1, Adjunct Professor James Fitzpatrick1,2,3, Professor Donna Cross1,3, Mrs. Isabelle Adams1,2,3, Dr. Martyn Symons1,3

1University Of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia, 2Patches Paediatrics, Nedlands, Australia, 3Telethon Kids Institute, Nedlands, Australia

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a condition caused by prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE). Neurodevelopmental impairments resulting from PAE increase the likelihood of justice system involvement. This study compared the frequency and types of offences in young people with FASD to demographically matched (i.e., age, sex, cultural background) controls. For offenders with FASD, clinic records were reviewed retrospectively to obtain information on demographic and offending characteristics (e.g., frequency/types of offences). Control group data were provided by the Western Australia Police Force. A total of 100 offenders with FASD and 500 matched offenders from the general offence population were included in the study. Mean age of the total sample was 15.60 (SD = 3.01, range =10-24 years). Across the total sample, most offenders were males (82%) and identified as Australian Aboriginals (88%). The five most common offences in the FASD group were stealing, burglary, property damage, disorderly behaviour and acts intended to cause injury. After controlling for demographic factors, regression analyses show that offenders with FASD were more likely than matched controls to be charged with reckless driving (OR=4.20, p <0.05), breach of bail/community-based orders (OR=3.19, p<0.001), sexual assaults (OR=2.98, p <0.01), property damage (OR=1.84, p <0.001) and public order offences (OR=1.54, p <0.001). Conversely, offenders with FASD were less likely to be charged with stealing (OR=0.72, p <0.001), burglary (OR=0.72, p <0.001) and giving a false name to the police (OR=0.38, p<0.05). Improving our understanding of offending behaviour in this clinical population will hopefully inform targeted interventions and diversionary programs.


Grace Tan is a registered provisional psychologist who is near finishing her combined PhD/Masters of Clinical Neuropsychology program at the University of Western Australia. Her PhD projects focus on investigating the relationship between FASD, adverse childhood experiences and offending behaviour in this clinical population. She also has experience working with Aboriginal communities in Western Australia and is guided by a cultural mentor.

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