Drinking during pregnancy is very dangerous for the child
It aims to slash the numbers of women who drink during pregnancy, which is estimated at 40 per cent – the fourth highest total in the world.
A Department of Health spokeswoman said it is committed to finding ways to “support vulnerable groups”, including parents of children at risk of being taken into care.
It comes as research reveals as many as 25 per cent of children taken into care have the accepted clinical risk of foetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) or disorders associated with it (FASD), which can lead to facial deformities, such as narrowed eyes, learning difficulties, attention problems, stunted growth, blindness, poor memory and deafness.
This study, by Peterborough-based paediatrician Dr Ges Gregory, also found as many as 75 per cent of children receiving assessments prior to an adoptive placement had been exposed to alcohol in the womb, although this didn’t mean they had a diagnosis of FASD.
The unpublished work examined 140 Cambridge and Peterborough children in care undergoing a health assessment.
The study, which has been sent to the journal of the Archives of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, has alarmed experts.
Dr Gregory said: “The results are shocking and while we need further larger studies to confirm our findings I am confident what we have found locally is likely to be mirrored nationally.
“The population needs to realise drinking in pregnancy is a massive risk factor for the unborn child.
“If people start looking at this and asking the question they will find the problem. Mothers who drink in pregnancy don’t always tell you. It is such a stigma and they feel guilt.
“Alcohol is so cheap and so many people drink at home but the effects of doing this in pregnancy can be devastating for the children and the carers and adoptive parents who may end up having to look after them.”
The population needs to realise drinking in pregnancy is a massive risk factor for the unborn child
Dr Raja Mukherjee, who runs a pioneering NHS clinic in Surrey for children affected by alcohol in the womb, said: “The fact so many children being adopted are damaged by alcohol in the womb shows that the no-alcohol message is not being heeded.”
He added: “The message has not got through in the same way as it has done with smoking. There are still mixed messages diluting the official advice that there is no safe level of consumption of alcohol in pregnancy.”
A Department of Health statement said: “The Government recognises foetal alcohol spectrum disorders can have a significant impact on children, their behaviours and their life chances.
“The Department is organising an expert round-table group to examine the issues surrounding FASD and this meeting will be chaired by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer.”
Maryelen and Billy McPhail with Paula and Taylor
MARYELEN McPhail, a full-time foster carer, and her husband Billy have adopted three children, two of whom have been diagnosed with foetal alcohol syndrome.
The 49-year-old, from Aire, Scotland, has been fostering for 18 years and lives with Paula, 18, who was diagnosed aged 16 and Taylor, adopted at four months old and now 10.
“As soon as Taylor came to us I noticed something was wrong,” she said.
“He was having seizures, his eyes would roll and he would rock himself. He found it difficult to sleep. I was told he would never be able to sit, walk or talk and would always be like a baby.”
When Taylor was six months the family went on a holiday to Tenerife and he began to settle.
However, there were concerns he may never talk.
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Eventually, with the help of doctors and physiotherapists, Maryelen took him to walking groups, singing groups and he was taught sign language in case he couldn’t talk.
He now goes to mainstream school, plays sport and is an avid reader though he still has memory and visual problems.
She said: “He brings a smile to my face every morning.”
Meanwhile, Paula has problems with co-ordination and memory.
“I love them to bits but there needs to be more awareness of this problem because once you have a diagnosis you can put measures in place to help the children deal with problems improving their life chances.
“The child can’t change so the adults need to.”