WHO CARE$ ABOUT FA$D?
© 2002 Teresa Kellerman
One out of every 500 babies is born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). Three to five times as many babies are born with Fetal Alcohol Effects (FAE). Combined, this means one out of every 100 babies is born with a Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). So, who cares? The affected individuals care. Their families care. Sometimes a teacher cares, or a doctor, or a social worker cares enough to learn and understand the issues related to FASD. But most people don't really care. They think that if it doesn't affect them directly, they don't have to lose any sleep over it. There is more to lose than sleep though.
Studies indicate that one baby with FAS costs taxpayers between $1.5 million (conservative estimate) and $5 million (actual estimate) over a lifetime, which averages to about $2.5 million per child. If the rate of FAS is one per 500 births, there were 7,883 babies born in the U.S. with full FAS last year. Those babies will cost American taxpayers $19.7 billion.
There are 129,783,221 taxpaying citizens in U.S. Babies born with FAS last year will cost each taxpayer $151. That's not a lot of money. But that is the cost for babies born only last year. And that does not include the cost of FAE, which occurs at 3 to 5 times the rate of full FAS. Over the 50 years that a person expects to work and pay taxes, a man or woman might expect to pay $20,000 for services needed by those with FASD.
What would you do with $20,000? Maybe you would buy a new car, or move into a bigger house. Or take the family on a Caribbean Cruise. Or maybe you would invest it for your retirement. Imagine every taxpayer having an extra $20,000 to spend. What a boost that would be to the economy!
Those individuals who have FAS are more likely to qualify for services such as assisted living or residential services, vocational rehabilitation, and social security disability income. These are costly, but the individuals who receive these support services can work and live a happy, healthy, productive life. Those with FAE are not likely to qualify for these services, and are at higher risk of having problems with substance abuse and becoming involved in crime or suffer from mental illness. These outcomes impact the economy as well, as these individuals are in and out of treatment facilities or jail or both.
If my tax dollars are going to pay for FASD, I would rather they paid for a residential placement than for a prison cell. I would rather see my tax dollars go toward prevention of FAS and related conditions. I would rather these individuals born with prenatal exposure to alcohol did not have labels like developmentally disabled, or mentally ill, or criminal. I would rather they did not have to suffer with the challenges that go with those labels. I would rather my son did not need a personal assistant with him every moment of every day, so that he could succeed independently without mother/brother/mentor constantly by his side. I would rather have a chance to pursue my education and career, a loss that is costing me and other parents far more than is calculated in government statistics on the cost of FASD. I would rather you got to keep that $20,000. But, who cares?