Lawmakers take aim at state's fetal alcohol syndrome problem

For decades we've heard warnings for women about drinking alcohol while pregnant.

Nonetheless, there's still an incredible number of children born in Minnesota with disabling alcohol exposure. Lawmakers want to do something about that by expanding a rather successful fetal alcohol program from Olmsted County to other parts of the state.

It costs big bucks to treat children with fetal alcohol disorders, so an expansion of the program could ultimately help taxpayers save money.

The program, called "Craft," works with pregnant women to help them avoid drinking while they're with child. A bill to spend $2 million for six to eight fetal alcohol syndrome prevention programs across the state passed out of a House committee today on a unanimous voice vote.

One woman who took part in Craft, Eileen Hendrickson, credits the Olmsted program with helping her through a difficult pregnancy.

"As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I got sober again and was sober throughout my pregnancy and then had a relapse again after I had my daughter," she says.

But Craft kept her sober while she was pregnant, and today, her daughter Genevieve is healthy and happy.

Susan Carlson, president of the the state's Organization of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, says, "In Minnesota, 23 percent of women during child-bearing years binge drink, and we know that one episode of binge drinking can cause damage to the developing brain any time during pregnancy."

Carlson's organization estimates there are 5,300 babies born here each year with prenatal alcohol exposure.

Many of them end up seeing pediatric neuropsychologist Dr. Chris Boys at the University of Minnesota.

"As a pediatric neuropsychologist I see these kids in our clinic, and there's a lot of cognitive impairment, and there's a lot of subtle impact on the frontal lobe of the brain and it can really impact behavior and learning," he says.

It's costly as well -- advocates told state lawmakers today that a single child with fetal alcohol syndrome during their lifetime can tally up more than $2,000,000 in health care costs.

That's the same amount advocates are requesting for the new fetal alcohol programs across the state.

Eileen believe Craft helped save her daughter.

"Having that close-knit group that you can communicate, bounce different ideas off has been so helpful and I feel so many other women should have the opportunity to do a program like this," she says.