Langton advocates further intervention to help Aboriginal children
The idea that pregnant Aboriginal women be placed on a banned alcohol register should be considered, Professor Marcia Langton told a Darwin audience.
Langton, who is foundation professor of Australian Indigenous Studies at the School of Population Health at the University of Melbourne made the controversial suggestion at the 2011 Vincent Lingari lecture delivered last month.
She said the proposal was probably unworkable as over 50 per cent of pregnancies were unplanned, and antenatal care was not well attended and pregnancy not well detected until the final trimester.
“Such an intervention would only capture a small proportion of the community.”
In her address to commemorate the 1966 strike where Lingiari led members of his Gurindji tribe and other groups off Wave Hill Station, Langton said present policies and approaches needed to be interrogated in order to find answers to how to create a safe environment for children.
If the task is to create a policy that encourages safe, healthy homes that nurtures healthy development, what would this look like? she asked.
Issues that should be considered are direct the effect of alcohol on the growing fetus; secondary effects of mothers being drunk – growth faltering from nutritional neglect, lack of hygiene; lack of emotional nurturing and the effect of violence
Langton also listed the issue of alcohol in pregnancy and the harm to the unborn baby in the first and second semester of pregnancy. “The idea that pregnant women be placed on a banned alcohol register should be considered.”
However she said there was a significant lack of knowledge among health professionals with regards to identifying and accurately diagnosing FASD. “A program aimed at improving education of doctors and health professionals with regards to recognition of FASD is urgently required.”
Langton in a comprehensive address quoted research on the problem of malnutrition and growth failure among Aboriginal children in the Northern Territory. She said there was a need to develop and support programs that address how best to recognise and educate kids in the classroom with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.
“The most vulnerable citizens of the Northern Territory are Aboriginal babies. Unable to feed themselves and given insufficient nutrition for normal growth, at the very beginning of their lives they suffer hunger and they are unable to develop normally,” she said.
“They are the victims of a health crisis with economic, social, historical and cultural dimensions…My concern is with the importance of ensuring that the rights and requirements of the child are central to any consideration and policy.”
Langton said other manifestations of this crisis were the subject of the hotly contested Northern Territory Emergency Intervention, involving quarantined social security income payments, restrictions on alcohol sales, special land leases in the declared 73 communities, and wide range of programs, including child medical examinations by special teams and child nutrition programs.
She supported recommendations by health researchers for community-based interventions to overcome infant under-nutrition saying they were urgently required.
“A child-focused approach recognises, as the paediatrician John Boulton observed, that there are essential pre-requisites of human parenting.
“Boulton recommends nutrition and education strategies for preventing growth faltering from nutritional neglect. He also identifies the prevention of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and causes of early life trauma, and supporting families whose children suffer the effects of FASD as matters of high priority.”
Langton said most medical personnel and other professionals working in this area understand that working in partnership with indigenous organisations and Aboriginal families is essential to achieving social norms of personal behaviour in relation to alcohol consumption, parenting, and education.
“My own recommendations are that we need two foci to our present policies: a household-focused approach, one that addresses food security and adequate facilities and emphasises behaviour; capacity building and the institutional environment, most importantly improving professional resources in remote Australia.
“My concern is with the importance of ensuring that the rights and requirements of the child are central to any consideration and policy.”
The descendants of Vincent Lingiari boycotted the lecture because Langton supports the federal intervention in the Northern Territory.
Gurindji man Japarta Ryan told the ABC the intervention policy has been used to “oppress Aboriginal people” and Langton should not have delivered the lecture.
“The intervention has hurt a lot of people,” he said. “It is wrong. A lot of my people, many Gurindji people, are trapped in this ideology.”Do you have an idea for a story?
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