Blue Mountains LDAT is using their work with Planet Youth Iceland to engage local schools, parents and young people. The Planet Youth model aims to increase protective factors and resilience in young people, in order to reduce harms from alcohol and other drugs.
Ryn Vlachou, Community Development Officer for Young People at the Blue Mountain City Council, is also the lead of the LDAT. The Council convenes the Youth Mental Illness and Substance Abuse Network, which led to the formation of the LDAT.
“Becoming an LDAT gives us access to funding and the ADF resources they provide. For us it was a logical step to continue the same work. We have a core group of 12 partners around the table. These are solid relationships cultivated over years with a lot of trust and willingness to collaborate on important issues,” she says.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the LDAT has been running meetings over Zoom conference calls. Sadly, they had to postpone their Youth Week event scheduled for April. The celebration in the local skatepark is now rescheduled for October, which is Mental Health Month, and is being led by Mountains Youth Services Team, a key LDAT partner.
“We hope it will be a time to celebrate coming out of the coronavirus pandemic, and young people can meet up again and connect with each other,” said Ryn.
In February, the LDAT took part in a workshop with the Planet Youth researchers from Iceland. It was well attended, with about 40 guests. Attendees were from schools and local organisations, with the aim being to devise the best way to disseminate the research findings to parents, and engage them in solutions.
Planet Youth researchers shared data findings from surveys that were conducted at the local high schools on alcohol and other drug use. There was another workshop planned for March, which was replaced with an online event because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We thought we should use the momentum and do a Zoom session. We’ve been meeting and planning a range of activities until restrictions lift,” said Ryn.
Parental involvement in a young person’s life is a positive protective factor from the harms of alcohol and other drugs, which is why engaging parents is key for the Planet Youth model.
“Sharing the information will hopefully galvanise parents into action to support their children. We want to highlight the positive for parents because they want the best for their children. It’s key to present the findings in a way that will resonate with parents,” explained Ryn.
The LDAT is looking into ways to connect parents and share the information, through online platforms such as Facebook and through the production of resources.
“We want for this to be sustainable and for the community to have information and be able to act on it. Some of the work is to do with financial resourcing, but most of it is about creating relationships,” said Ryn.
Prior to COVID-19, the LDAT’s first CAP was a peer mentoring project at a number of local high schools. The aim was to recruit 12 young people, and they ended up with 26 for the two-day peer mentoring session. It empowered the young participants to support their peers by being welcoming, inclusive and looking out for each other’s mental health.
After the training, the participants went away and came up with a plan for how they would roll out the program in their own school. At one school, the Year 10s mentored Year 7 and 8s. Mentors at another school made a film with the help of their youth development officer and the peer educator. The film was a ‘train the trainer’ video, designed to pass on peer support skills to other students.
“The young people who were involved got so much out of it. Both those being mentored and those mentoring,” said Ellen Panaretos, Senior Community Development Officer at the Alcohol and Drug Foundation.