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Peer-to-peer support for isolated teens

Who: Blue Mountains LDAT

What: Prevent and minimise alcohol, ‘ice’ and cannabis use among at-risk and geographically dispersed 12-17-year-olds

Where: Blue Mountains – around 100km west of Sydney

How: Youth peer-to-peer support

Associated LDAT resource: Peer Support toolkit


Building success by extending networks and activities

Like many Local Drug Action Teams, the Blue Mountains LDAT emerged from a range of community-based organisations looking for ways to strengthen and extend tailored local activities to prevent and minimise the harm caused by alcohol and other drugs.

In the case of the Blue Mountains LDAT however, a central aim was to build on the previous decade’s AOD harm prevention learnings and activities established under NSW-based Community Engagement and Action Program, which also targeted young people.

“I think the desire of organisations in the Blue Mountains to join the LDAT Program really evolved out of a recognition that it provided a new pathway to extend and deepen their work in the community to reduce AOD harms,” said Peter Whitecross, from Alcohol and Drug Foundation.

“For the Blue Mountains, it was not just about the opportunity to deliver activities on a larger scale – although this was an attraction. I think the organisations that have partnered to form the LDAT really understand and are committed to the fundamentals underpinning the program. This includes the opportunity to take a more coordinated and targeted approach, but also, ensuring that evidence-informed activities are at the heart of their approach to reducing AOD harm in the municipality,” said Peter.

Working closely with the community to support the development and implementation of their project activities, Peter is really excited by the work being undertaken by the Blue Mountains team.

Challenging circumstances for youth

With 70% of the Blue Mountains Local Government Area (LGA) made up of National Park (much of which has been designated a World Heritage area), the LGA is possibly unique in Australia.

While still within commuting distance to Sydney for many locals, the area shares a number of characteristics and challenges faced by Australia’s more rural and remote locations when it comes to preventing and minimising AOD harms.

“Because of the elongated settlement pattern of the Blue Mountains, strung out as it is along the Great Western Highway, it’s hard to locate services in a way that ensures easy and equitable access. This is a particular problem for young people who are dependent on infrequent public transport,” explains Ryn Vlachou, Youth Services Development Officer with the Blue Mountains City Council.

This, together with poor employment opportunities for young people, and other local issues including ongoing trauma from bushfires, have all contributed to a unique set of challenges facing the area’s young people.

Community forum establishes approach

It’s in this context that the community held a forum early in 2018, with the aim of: examining the needs of young people in the community, assessing the success of previous peer education work among local youth, and to get agreement on priority actions needed from the group to enable them to join and successfully deliver activities as part of the LDAT Program.

Peer support for youth based on local needs

Armed with local knowledge and statistics — including the relative vulnerability of different groups of young people in the area — forum participants then agreed on which of these sub-groups of 12-17-year-olds they would target with their activity. Potential target groups included culturally and linguistically diverse youth, young people who had experienced various types of abuse, anxiety or depression, Indigenous youth, LGBTIQ youth, and young people living in out-of-home care.

The forum also looked at the prevalence of various drugs in the community; to identify those that young people are most likely to misuse, and the reason behind their misuse.

Another key aspect of the forum that influenced the decision to pursue a peer education approach was a presentation on the Teach Our Youth project being run by the Bankstown LDAT.

“The result was a great Community Action Plan from the Blue Mountains LDAT,” says Peter.

It responded both to local needs, as well as taking an evidence-informed approach with their plan’s objectives including the co-design and delivery of a peer support project in conjunction with peer leaders.

This is in line with the ADF’s Peer Support toolkit, which highlights the effectiveness of peer-to-peer relationships as a protective factor in preventing AOD harms.”

Progressing through the program

Like all LDAT projects, the Blue Mountains peer support project will progress through various stages:

  1. determining if the project is right for the community
  2. joining the program
  3. developing an action plan
  4. implementing their action plan
  5. and finally, measuring and reporting success.

Currently at Stage 4

At the time of writing, the Blue Mountains LDAT had received their funding and are in the process of implementing their Community Action Plan (CAP). A steering group has been set up to provide ongoing support to peer educators and to progress their plan.

The next steps for the steering group (as identified in their CAP) are to:

  1. recruit their peer educators
  2. identify and confirm the best-practice opportunities (both online and face-to-face) to deliver their peer support program
  3. develop and deliver training and resources to support the work of their peer educators
  4. and, with assistance from the ADF, co-design the camp and deliver training for peer educators.

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