NASW Foundation News

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Project

In 2018, NASW and The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) Steve Hicks School of Social Work will complete a successful partnership representing social work in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Collaborative for Alcohol-Free Pregnancy. The grant award was made to UT Austin in 2014.


Health professionals play a key role in reducing the prevalence of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) through the use of evidence-based practices, such as alcohol screening and brief intervention (alcohol SBI), that target high-risk drinking and the prevention of alcohol-exposed pregnancy. As part of CDC’s cross-discipline collaborative, our social work team is working with physicians, nurses, and medical assistants to educate healthcare professionals about the importance of talking to women about risky alcohol use and to facilitate use of alcohol SBI in healthcare practice. 


NASW joins the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, and other leading health organizations in CDC’s national campaign to increase FASD awareness and improve primary prevention in women’s healthcare practice. 


NASW serves as a partner to target social work practice. The purpose of this initiative is to strengthen research-to-practice linkages between CDC’s Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) programs and selected practice disciplines that are well positioned to advance FASD identification, treatment and prevention practice. NASW’s overall role on the project has been to: 1) work closely with the UT Austin and CDC’s cross-discipline Collaborative for Alcohol-Free Pregnancy on planning, dissemination and training on FASD awareness and prevention practice among social work practitioners at both national and state levels; 2) facilitate promotion and delivery of FASD training opportunities through NASW’s continuing education and communication channels; and, 3) assist with dissemination of FASD information through NASW’s online and print communications and programming.


Despite recent focus on the serious dangers of opioids and heroin to newborns, ongoing research continues to document the permanent, systemic neurological and physical damage associated with prenatal exposure to alcohol. In fact, prenatal exposure to alcohol is a leading cause of intellectual and neurodevelopmental disabilities, and it remains a significant public health concern. 


A recent study published in JAMA (02/6/2018) finds that fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD)—the general term for the group of impairments caused by prenatal alcohol exposure—is common in the U.S., affecting 1 in 20 school children. The alarming prevalence of FASD, in concert with widely reported increases in binge drinking and excessive alcohol use among women, highlight the critical need for prevention strategies targeting women of reproductive age.