Last updated 05:00 26/09/2012

A retired teacher in Kerikeri says that he sees too many pregnant women enjoying alcohol.

For Sam McHarg, the future of these women’s children is the issue. Foetal alcohol syndrome creates huge challenges in the lives of children, which many never overcome.

In the 1960s Mr McHarg was the senior teacher at a school for troubled young people in Auckland.

“These were kids who couldn’t be in a class, they either made it in our school or they went to a padded cell,” he says.

“Most were emotionally disturbed and they came right, but we did have kids who, looking back, had this alcohol ‘thing’. You recognise it now and those were the ones we never made progress with.”

Mr McHarg says the rate of drug and alcohol use by pregnant women is much higher here than in other countries.

He cites Ministry of Health data from 2009 which says up to 60 per cent of women may binge drink before pregnancy recognition and that 28 per cent drink during pregnancy.

That number is much higher among pregnant teens – 80 per cent of whom continue to drink during pregnancy.

It creates a problem that impacts on our whole society.

“They don’t have the ability to look ahead to see what circumstances will be if they do a certain action,” he says. “And if anything goes wrong it’s always someone else’s fault.”

And while there are some physiological signposts, it’s the behavioural issues that are the most problematic for society at large.

“They’re filling our jails.”