A champion for change
We sat down with Marilyn Jerowsky, an instructor in the Justice Studies program at Bow Valley College. Jerowsky also teaches in the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Education Certificate program. We chatted about her diverse professional experience.
What were you doing before you became an instructor at Bow Valley College?
I have spent almost 20 years working with youth, but for the past seven and a half years I was the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) coordinator for Alberta Justice and Solicitor General. I was also involved in various other FASD-related initiatives, and spearheaded the implementation of trauma-informed initiatives in the provincial young offender system.
Why should people know about FASD?
Between one and three per cent of Canadians are living with FASD, but it’s estimated that closer to 25 to 50 per cent of offenders within the justice system are affected. FASD is also overrepresented in other systems, including addictions, mental health, child and family services, and special education. If FASD is ever going to be abolished, we all need to do our part through education and prevention.
What is the diagnostic process for FASD?
FASD is not easily diagnosed — there is no blood test or medical procedure. It is diagnosed through specialized assessment by a multidisciplinary team that includes medical, psychological, social, linguistic, education, and justice professionals.
What do you think some of the barriers are for offenders who are incarcerated to be diagnosed with FASD?
In the province of Alberta, many FASD assessment clinics only diagnose children and youth. Incarcerated youth are often able to get their assessment and diagnosis and begin to access supports. This is not usually the case for adult offenders.
What were the most rewarding parts of your career?
I was lucky to be able to work on a lot of different projects, including the very rewarding S. 19 Case conferencing project I co-facilitated with the Calgary Youth Criminal Defense Office. We were approved for federal funding to do an independent research project that showed youth who went through the conferences had much lower rates of recidivism than youth who did not. That research is now being showcased at FASD conferences throughout Canada.
What advice do you have for current/prospective learners aspiring to work within justice?
Don’t be content to just do your job. Find things that you are passionate about and find ways to incorporate those into your workplace. Accept special projects, apply for secondments and promotions. Look for better ways to do what we do, and never settle for the explanation, “It’s just how we have always done things”.