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Encounter Youth keeping Schoolies safe

Schoolies (or Leavers in some states) is an Aussie rite of passage from youth to adulthood, is a national phenomenon.

This November marks the 23rd year that Encounter Youth has coordinated the Schoolies Festival™ in Victor Harbour, south of Adelaide.

It is an alcohol and other drug-free event that attracts thousands of school leavers to celebrate the end of their high school education.

Supporting young people to have a good time

Nigel Knowles, CEO of Encounter Youth, said that there used to be a chaotic convergence of young people on the seaside town with negative impacts on local residents and businesses.

Thanks to a collaborative effort from government, emergency services, volunteers and locals it has been transformed into a safe and fun three-day event.

“Our aim was to not see young people as a problem but to try and support them. Our success has been about harm minimisation matched with positive engagement and community collaboration,” said Nigel.

The Festival has four zones, centralising one area for celebrations away from the accommodation zone. There’s also a bus zone for free safe transport and a welcome zone. Celebrations happen in the festival zone from 7pm to 3am across a Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Nigel says that Encounter Youth drives to make the celebration attractive and offer something for everyone.

“We have high quality DJs and bands, a stage for dancing, chill out areas and a gaming arcade. There’s theme nights with dress ups, free donuts and interactive activities such as basketball and chalk drawing."

We want the Schoolies to own their celebration which helps to reduce harm.

Parental engagement helping keep young people safe

Encounter Youth builds protective factors in the community by promoting the value of early parental engagement.

“We want the Schoolies to own their celebration which helps to reduce harm.” Nigel Knowles, CEO of Encounter Youth

“Parents and caregivers are teens’ number one influencers and we provide seminars and fact sheets for parents ahead of the event.

“We encourage parents to have conversations about personal safety strategies and options should something not go to plan, and to stay connected with their kids over Schoolies,” said Nigel.

The party-goers have people on the ground looking out for them too. Over 500 specially trained Encounter Youth Green Team Volunteers interact with the school-leavers doing everything from cooking free food and picking up rubbish, to looking out for teens in trouble.

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Advice for community groups responding to Schoolies

Nigel’s advice to community groups wanting to get involved in Schoolies is to first find out what is happening in your state.

“Most states have an established Schoolies’ management response with good safety strategies.

“Set up a local community working group to try and find the avenues where you can provide support.”

Nigel’s top tips for community groups organising Schoolies activities are:

  1. Have school-leavers on your site for no more than three nights, as risks increase when young people become fatigued.
  2. Consult with current graduates and design a festival around what they want.
  3. Recognise that parents, state government, education providers and emergency response services all have a role to play.
  4. Provide free buses, given the risk for Schoolies to be driving at a vulnerable time.
  5. Don’t try and scare young people with shocking stories. Research shows there’s a higher uptake of messages with positive engagement.
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Local Drug Action Teams implementing education in schools

Encounter Youth’s work is not just limited to Schoolies. It is the largest provider of alcohol and other drug (AOD) education to South Australian secondary students, their parents and teachers.

Local Drug Action Teams (LDATs) have implemented Encounter Youth’s AOD education in schools as part of their Community Action Plans.

Using the model, South Australia’s Streaky Bay LDAT is hosting a ‘Parents Night Out’ seminar ahead of Schoolies with an emphasis on safe celebrations.

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