Strong communities provide a protective factor against substance use. Understanding the strength that connection provides, helps communities manage the challenge of reducing harms more easily.
Made up of seven municipalities located in the south-eastern corner of South Australia, the Limestone Coast region is often described as an idyllic combination of stunning coastline and irresistible food and wine. But despite this setting, the residents of the Limestone Coast still face many of the issues common to other communities, including the use of alcohol and other drugs (AOD).
Fortunately for the region though, it’s also to many passionate people wanting to prevent and minimise AOD use, and the harms that often follow.
In 2015, four of these people got together to form what would later become their region’s Local Drug Action Team (LDAT). Initially, this tight-knit group developed and ran a series of highly successful ‘Understanding the Ice Factor’ drug forums in the region.
They quickly found, however, that the benefits were two-fold. Not only did the forums enable the group to speak to large numbers of people, but they also helped the group to get a broader understanding of the range of AOD use issues affecting the Limestone Coast.
“The group told me that while running these forums, it became increasingly apparent that they should be taking a whole-of-community approach to their work,” says Ruth Miller, Relationship Manager with the Alcohol and Drug Foundation.
Led by Sergeant Andy Stott (South Australian Police), Dr Judy Nagy (City of Mount Gambier), Dr Sue Mutton (formerly from the University of South Australia) and Sophie Bourchier (Project Officer), this group became the first ADF-funded Local Drug Action Team in South Australia.
Known as Substance Misuse Limestone Coast Working Party, the key aims of the LDAT are to help establish a collaborative, evidence-informed, community model to address AOD-use in the area, including importantly, advocating for evidence-informed AOD education in schools.
“We are thrilled with the opportunity the ADF’s LDAT Program has given us to extend our influence around addressing substance use,” said Dr Judy Nagy.
“We have a dedicated project officer who has been able to use the ADF resources to identify affordable school-based alcohol and other drug harm minimisation programs – and then support local schools to embed one of these into their curriculum.”.
The LDAT initially expected to spend more time researching the best approach regarding effective programs in schools. “But access to ADF resources meant they could quickly adopt an effective evidence-informed approach to reducing AOD harms among their student target group,” says Ruth.
The team found this information easy to access: attending the Education in Schools webinar, downloading materials from the ADF’s Community Hub website, and liaising with ADF staff when they had any questions.
“We’re now encouraging all schools in our area to take up an evidence-informed program. In the years to come, we expect to see delayed uptake and use of alcohol and other drugs in our community,” says Sophie.
Finding an effective schools-based approach early on was a key win identified by the LDAT.
Supported by the ADF, the team chose the evidence-informed approach known as Climate Schools, together with the SAHMRI Resilience and Well-Being Program.
“The education community is reporting that the programs are enabling young people to realise their sense of self-worth, with evidence suggesting that this is likely to delay the uptake of alcohol and other drugs,” Judy Nagy says.
The team learnt more about this approach through the ADF’s Education in Schools toolkit and webinar. Having access to the best approach from the start has meant that Substance Misuse Limestone Coast LDAT are spending less time developing and trialling their own school education project.
Selecting a trusted ‘off-the-shelf’ program, one they know has been effective, means the team have been able to get down to delivering AOD education to students much sooner, and with more confidence.
“[Climate Schools] provided a leadership opportunity for our students and the fact that it wasn’t ‘one of us’ that delivered has been a real positive.” – Principal, Tension Woods College.
Tension Woods College delivered training and Climate Schools content to its Year 10 students, who then delivered the Climate Schools content to Year 9 students. These activities contributed to their South Australian Certificate of Education (10 points), provided opportunities to share knowledge, provide peer leadership and enabled them to present to the school leadership team on the process and impacts.
Student and staff feedback was collated and used to inform content for future implementation via the curriculum, incorporating sustainability. Sixty students (from Years 8, 9 and 10) completed Climate Schools at Millicent High School.
“Climate schools is really good. I really like it, good characters and good stories. It’s not dorky.” – Year 10 boy, when asked whether content was relevant to him.
Through the program, students developed skills in presenting and facilitating discussion, resulting in confidence, ownership and resilience. All Year 10 students in the Limestone Coast area will complete the Year 10 module of Climate Schools.
One of the benefits reported by the team has been the opportunity that the LDAT Program’s grant funding has made to their ability to attract additional resources. With this funding, for instance, the team was able to encourage further support, including matched funding from one of their project partners.
This, in turn, increased the scope and profile of their work, and has seen it expand from being delivered in just one local government area, to now covering seven council areas. This has expanded the reach and impact of the LDATs work and will further improve its sustainability.
“A key to success, both for the ADF’s Relationship Managers, and for LDAT partners on the ground, is to keep checking in and ensuring everything is on track,” says Ruth.
“It’s about creating connection. Working together, I feel we’re making a difference and shaping something worthwhile.”
Main photo: Substance Misuse Limestone Coast Working Group supports the Tenison Woods College teaching staff including Tania Sigley (pictured) to provide drug and alcohol education through CLIMATE Schools.