Young people in Port Lincoln, South Australia, are on a roll. Through Local Drug Action Team activities, they took part in mental health programs, sport and a skateboarding competition – connecting them in with their community and local services.
Port Lincoln Local Drug Action Team (LDAT) had planned to team up with mental health program providers to roll out two programs in schools, as well as deliver community forums. But COVID-19 lockdowns meant they had to be flexible.
The school programs still went ahead, but the community forums couldn’t.
Instead, the LDAT decided to reach their audience through a local skateboarding event, with a group of young people leading the planning and delivery.
Targeting young people via this alcohol and drug-free event provided the LDAT with the opportunity for earlier intervention and education on drug harms, and importantly, skills and knowledge development.
The community faces significant issues with alcohol and other drug (AOD) use in the area. Boys aged 10 to 17 years are particularly vulnerable to feelings of isolation and lack positive role models, which can increase their risk of using substances like cannabis.
Deadly Thinking Youth and Mentally Fit Me are two mental health-focussed programs that the LDAT partnered up with to deliver through schools in the area. But, the LDAT knew that not all teenagers are engaged at school and that some might be missed.
With community forums off the table due to lockdowns, reaching young people through local sports clubs and events was the way to go.
Tony Perks, Senior Youth Support Worker at West Coast Youth and Community Support, observed that young Aboriginal people were hanging around the local skate park but not participating.
The LDAT thought that getting thrills from skateboarding and becoming involved in a local event could help connect them to the community.
The Deadly Thinking Youth (DTY) program, in conjunction with Port Lincoln Aboriginal Health, aimed to help 112 young people cope socially and emotionally, and strengthen their connection to community and culture.
The Mentally Fit Me (MFME) program was also delivered by youth workers, counsellors and trained teachers to 109 young people attending schools or engaged with services in the region.
Instead of the community forums which were impacted by COVID-19 closures, weekly youth outreach was delivered through a local football club.
The program was expanded to include the local skate comp co-delivered with some of these young people.
“Skateboarding was a huge drawcard. It offered an alternate healthy risk-taking activity that gave [young people] the adrenaline they were after,” said Tony.
Partnering with the local surf store, Tony regularly went to the skate park to engage with young Aboriginal boys and encourage their participation in the sport. He also delivered a talk to the Port Lincoln Primary School about the benefits of getting involved and giving back to the community.
As a result, six young people volunteered to work on the skateboarding festival. They learnt that there’s a process to running an event, from gaining permits and insurance to organising music and hiring a skate coach from Adelaide.
“They co-designed the event. Everyone could see that it was youth-driven, from the boys getting others to judge a different age group to the serving of food. They felt like they owned it and were part of it. That was the difference. It was their event and gave the boys involved a sense of worth.”
Tony said that the ADF provided the team with “wraparound support” and ongoing wise counsel. There were fortnightly meetings that brought together all the LDAT partner organisations involved.
The DTY program was delivered to 112 students at a local high school. It reached the entire cohort of Aboriginal students – almost double the original goal of 60 young people. It was a success, with 78.9% of program participants reporting an increase of skills and knowledge to help them deal with social and emotional wellbeing challenges they may face.
According to a post program survey, 100% of all MFME participants reported an increased awareness of poor mental health signs and where to seek help. The program was offered for a second time following across-the-board positive feedback from the first round.
And, the sports club outreach sessions and skateboarding event involved an additional 90 young Port Lincoln locals. There was a positive turnaround to previous years, with a large increase in the participation of young Aboriginal boys in skateboarding and the event itself.
Tony says that creating vibrant and inclusive environments is critical to engaging young people and promoting their overall wellbeing.
“An important benefit has been the opportunity to have open conversations about drug use in town; what the boys are seeing on the streets and what people are experimenting with. This has allowed us to put in place proper supports now that there is a trusted relationship.”
Next year the LDAT will target even more groups and encourage existing participants to mentor others to ensure the event is sustainable.
“We know what works and have a blueprint for future events,” concluded Tony.
LDAT partners are West Coast Youth and Community Support, Country SA PHN, Country and Outback Health, Department of Education, DHS Safer Family Services, Youth Justice, Department for Child Protection, Baptist Care, Port Lincoln Aboriginal Community Council, Port Lincoln Aboriginal Health, Aboriginal Family Support Services, Port Lincoln City Council, Flinders Electorate, South Australian Housing Authority, SA Police.
Header image Close-up, legs of a girl and a skateboard on a blurred parking background by Marco Verch under Creative Commons 2.0