The Local Drug Action Team (LDAT) program supports community organisations to reduce harms from alcohol and other drugs (AOD) in their local area.
We take a look at the Huon Valley LDAT’s ARVOS program and how it’s reducing the likelihood of AOD use in young people through supervised leisure activities for the whole community.
Activities for young people in southern Tasmania
ARVOS activities for young people and their families in Southern Tasmania’s Huon Valley have been a huge success.
Run three days a week during school terms in Roving, Dover and Huonville, the program provides social spaces for young people to have fun and express themselves free of alcohol and other drugs.
Each Wednesday, ARVOS Roving set up a pop-up play area at playgrounds and skate parks. On Thursday afternoons, another pop-up play area was created for children and families at the Dover District School.
Friday afternoons were for 15 to 16-year-olds to connect over Nintendo Switch tournaments and board games at the Huon Valley Hub.
Parents and carers joined in with afternoon teas and family picnics to relax and connect with other parents.
The Huon Valley Council noticed concerns in the community surrounding isolation and feelings of not belonging, which are risk factors for AOD use in all age groups.
Mitch Robson, Youth Development Officer at the Huon Valley Council, said that before ARVOS, most southern communities didn’t have access to after school or other activities for their kids.
He added that the area has many workers who commute to Hobart, leaving kids at home alone after school.
“This could lead to an environment where they have friends over and are tempted to try alcohol and other drugs. Positive spaces say, ‘you belong here, you have a spot, you don’t need to go down a path having substances to feel you belong’,” said Mitch.
There was a clear need for activities that would address this gap and engage young people in safe and inclusive spaces in the Huon Valley region.
It’s important for kids to have creative play and socialise.
When designing the program, the LDAT needed to consider the vast area to be covered including small and isolated communities. Figuring out how to get the young people home was a hurdle. Mitch and the team picked locations with a 10 to 20 minute drive for parents.
Another challenge was getting the word out to people who weren’t on the Council’s radar.
“We found community champions to share the information through their friendship circles and networks. Word of mouth was very powerful.”
Barriers were also the weather and being able to offer a consistent schedule.
Being flexible and adaptive in delivering the activities was vital in connecting with the community.
Mitch said that after each session the team reflected on what was best for kids of each age.
“At Dover we had sporty ball games for the older kids and hopscotch and Jenga for the younger ones. Having warm drinks at the skate park helped us form connections with the skaters and start to talk about things that were impacting their lives.
“Providing something popular on a Friday night connected us with young people who might not have had a positive home environment.
“One of the fathers even set up the Dover Devils soccer team as a result of talking to other parents,” said Mitch.
Local businesses helped by coming on board as sponsors.
Another parent reflected in a survey: “I think this Hub space is amazing for the kids and my son looks forward to it every week.”
Talking to young people, listening to what they would like and giving them some say and agency in the space was key to making it a success and keeping it going.
ARVOS resulted in an increased sense of community belonging.
The Council is now seeking activity hosts to run supported ARVOS activities. Talks are happening with a local group to take over the Dover activities, in partnership with TASSAL, a local employer.
Mitch regularly swings by the skate parks with a bag of Freddos to check in with the kids and Friday game nights are more popular than ever.
In a survey carried out by the council, some of the young people reflected on the program. They said it was great to have a place to hang out with mates each week, as they didn’t have a space to play outside of school.
“Dover is an amazing place to live, but it feels like we miss out on a lot. This was a nice thing that Dover had for itself.”