SARASOTA - The only Fetal Alcohol clinic in the state is right here on the Suncoast, but now it may soon be closing its doors with threats to cuts in state funding. Without it, the trickle-down effect will be felt statewide.
Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can have serious consequences for an unborn child. In fact, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder causes irreversible physical and mental damage and can lead to behavioral problems in children.
The disorder crosses all socio-economic groups and affects all races, and the cost to treat a child can reach into the millions of dollars.
In the eight years the clinic at The Florida Center For Early Childhood has been open, funding for the fetal alcohol spectrum disorders clinic has wavered, but now, the threatened cuts are much more severe.
“At this point, our funding is at $380,000 in the House budget, and at 0 in Senate budget...and it looks like they have to resolve the differences in the budget through conference,” says Kristie Skoglund.
Skoglund is the VP of clinical services and the director of the Fetal Alcohol Clinic. “We do statewide evaluations for anyone, any age range, who has suspected or known pre-natal alcohol exposure. We not only do evaluations, which are typically a 4 hour, multi-disciplinary evaluations, we also provide intervention services locally to those who require intervention services.”
The clinic is set up to do a wide variety of tests and evaluations on anyone who was exposed to alcohol in utero, which can have severe consequences. “A lot of secondary disabilities like juvenile justice involvement, mental health disorders, risky behaviors, a lot of things that could be prevented if we know what we're dealing with.”
If the state doesn't come to an agreement on funding, Skoglund says the clinic will close, leaving hundreds of people without the vital services they need. “You can piecemeal these evaluations together, but really no one has the training and expertise we have. We've devoted so much time into specific training around this issue that folks won’t get diagnosed properly.”
The CEO of the clinic is in Tallahassee now, working with lawmakers. They hope to know if their budget is funded within the next few weeks.