Children often enter a child-care system (eg, orphanage, foster care, child welfare system) because of unfavorable circumstances (eg, maternal alcohol and/or drug problems, child abuse/neglect). Such circumstances increase the odds of prenatal alcohol exposure, and thus this population can be regarded as high risk for fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). The primary objective was to estimate a pooled prevalence for fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and FASD in various child-care systems based on data from existing studies that used an active case ascertainment method.


A systematic literature review, using multiple electronic bibliographic databases, and meta-analysis of internationally published and unpublished studies that reported the prevalence of FAS and/or FASD in all types of child-care systems were conducted. The pooled prevalence estimates and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) were calculated by using the Mantel-Haenszel method, assuming a random effects model. Sensitivity analyses were performed for studies that used either passive surveillance or mixed methods.


On the basis of studies that used active case ascertainment, the overall pooled prevalence of FAS and FASD among children and youth in the care of a child-care system was calculated to be 6.0% (60 per 1000; 95% CI: 38 to 85 per 1000) and 16.9% (169 per 1000; 95% CI: 109 to 238 per 1000), respectively.


The results confirm that children and youth housed in or under the guardianship of the wide range of child-care systems constitute a population that is high-risk for FASD. It is imperative that screening be implemented in these at-risk populations.

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