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Social work practise in youth alcohol and drugs services is crucial. Social work practise enables and introduces coherent and cohesive approaches to the youth AOD sector. Statistics show Across Australia there is an increase in young people misusing and abusing substances such as alcohol, tobacco, stimulant, depressant, hallucinogen, illicit and prescribe drugs. The survey of 3634 young people aged between 12 to 25 revealed that 92 per cent have drunk alcohol and 34 per cent have taken drugs in the last two months Head space. Given these statistics and evidence based approach share the impotent of social work frameworks within youth AOD services to reduce substance misuse and based on principles of: youth engagement and participation, social justice, partnerships and collaboration, and inclusion. In this report I will be discussing the area of social work, youth AOD, that interest me and the legal context in which it exists.
Youth AOD is a critical subject within Australia and across the world. There is a dramatic increase in the underlying factors that contribute to alcohol and drug use. For example: Family and domestic violence, separation, homelessness, intergeneration alcohol and drug use, mental health issues, legal issues, social and pollical issues etc. This area interest me as a social worker due to fact it offers an earlier intervention in supporting young people to give an opportunity to empower and create positive change within there lives. Statistics show an increase of AOD use within young people within Australia Substance use in young people exists on a spectrum of levels of use, and the 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey identified frequent levels of alcohol use among some young people. Use of pharmaceuticals for non-medical reasons by young people was lower, with 2.3 per cent of 14-17-year old’s and one in twenty young people in the older age groups reporting usage in the previous year. In relation to tobacco smoking, 3.8 per cent of teenagers (12-17-year-olds) reported smoking tobacco and 2.5 per cent smoked daily. Those in higher age groups reported smoking at much higher rates. While daily use was rare, about a fifth to a quarter of young people drank in a manner that was categorised as ‘single-occasion risky use’ at least once a month. That is, more than four standard drinks in a row. About one-fifth to a quarter of young people had used an illicit drug (usually cannabis) in the previous year. Use was generally more common among males than females.
Social workers play a significant role within the youth AOD sector and are overseen by ethical and legal standards. State and commonwealth government bodies govern these legal standards to ensure professionals work within a social justice and human rights framework. Furthermore, from a organisational level social workers are governed through policy and procedures that provide legal and ethical approaches to ensure appropriate and purposeful service delivery.
Social work practise offers an integrated approach sees various factors and pathways into and out of problematic AOD use by young people. The key social work principles include:
- harm minimisation
- human rights
- developmental appropriateness
- holistic view of health and wellbeing
- social justice
- youth participation
- collaboration and partnerships
- professional development
- evaluation and research
- evidence-based approaches
By law there are some diverse number policies that guide services in appropriate and effective service provision to young people. These include the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which stipulates the right of every young person to receive a health service. The purpose of this Framework is to provide AOD services, health services, with a clear perception and principles to work on with young people who are experiencing substance misuse. Additionally, youth are a diverse population in which they play different roles and have many different responsibilities. There are different frameworks which constitute the different youth groups such as mental health or offending behaviours. Therefore, it is important that a social worker completes relevant bio-psychosocial assessments to determine decisions made about specific young people and course of treatment. For example: a young person from a CALD community who has experienced on going abuse may need support from community leaders to ensure the right course of action is taken. This is known as cultural sensitivity and awareness.
Social work practise within the youth AOD sector is governed by polices that ensure ethical practises and ethical guidelines. NSW Health is committed National Drug Strategy 2010-2015 – this framework is an action on alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs. The purpose of this approach is to achieve harm minimisation and the three ‘pillars’ of demand reduction, supply reduction and harm reduction need to be balanced and sensitive to age and stage of life. It is underpinned by the development of a qualified workforce, maintaining, and improving the evidence base, monitoring performance, and enhancing governance (National Drug Strategy 2010-2015)
Equity of service delivery to young people with emerging drug problems (NSW Youth Health Policy 2011-2016) To encourage and support young people to achieve optimal health and wellbeing, to ensure young people experience the health system as positive, respectful, supportive, and empowering, and to achieve positive outcomes for young people that are organisationally effective and early intervention and are delivered efficiently and effectively. (NSW Drug and Alcohol Plan 2006-2010) This policy is support by social values relating to holistic, evidence and strength based approaches, social justice and invention.
Within youth AOD work social workers are obliged to work as mandatory reporters to ensure child protection. State Plan Keep Them Safe – A Shared Approach to Child Wellbeing 2009-2014 – To improve the safety and wellbeing of children and young people. This policy ensures that social workers are supporting children and families to support children and families in the community and prevent children from entering the child protection system and a streamlined statutory child protection system focusing on children at greatest risk. (Child Wellbeing and Child Protection Policies and Procedures for NSW Health 2014) The policy guides Local Health Districts and Specialty Health Networks to implement the responsibilities of NSW Health under the NSW Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection Act 1998 and the Child Wellbeing and Child Protection)
The Policy and procedures shape social work practise, as we can see on the Youth Mental Health Services Model, described in the NSW Community Mental Health Strategy, was developed to meet the needs of young people aged 14 to 24 years. The mode is based on early intervention for social workers and to ensure that when young people access a service they feel safe, not being judged, holistic, flexible, confidential and comprehensive. AOD social workers practising within a service need to have a multidisciplinary team to work on and address complex issues, including drug and alcohol use.
Politics have a significant influence on Social Work practise in the youth AOD sector. Politics continue to change and depending on government and government funding. For example: IN Western Australia when the Labor government was in power, they support consideration of a heroin trial on principle, the Liberal party is opposed to the idea. Because drug issues do not win votes, government policies tend to follow perceived public opinion rather than shape it (Saunders & Marsh, 1999). There have been a number of cases when governments have not followed recommendation of specialised researchers in favour of supporting the general population. As seen in NSW there where laws introduced for harsher penalties to drug related activity whereas research shows that harsher penalties fails to discourage drug use. Therefore, Social workers have a reasonability to be aware of political views and changes and how these changes impact service delivery and frameworks.
Another contributing factor that influences social work practise includes government funding. The youth AOD sector is heavily based on funding weather from state, commonwealth, or local funding. For example, the more concern raised by families, communities, and media of drug users more funding will be directed at those populations. Consequently, there is a significant increase in service provision and research into family intervention. For example: Youth Off The Streets Dunlea Alcohol and other drugs youth community based program offered a service for young people 13 – 19 years of age. I interviewed the senior manager and family case worker who shared with me key findings. The Youth based program has experienced challenges of engaging disengaged youth, what they found, after consulting with the social worker that the families of the young people where highly engaged in the service. Therefore, the family program, supervised by a AOD social worker, became the foundation of the program and funding was based on the family program. In the AOD sector funding continues to impact social work practise both in a negative way, when people lose their jobs or program close and in a positive way when social workers can practise to support and empower those who are in need of help.
Other key legal considerations social workers need to comply with and social workers need to comply with in the youth AOD sector are maintaining professional boundaries; can be within a counselling or support worker role, Record keeping; keeping all files locked secured and private and maintain confidently; Keeping clients informed of rights and responsibility and feedback and complaints, also for young people having access to appropriate services that can connect with community and consider family reconciliation. Social work practise in youth AOD is a crucial role that requires understanding of the liabilities, legal framework in the different social work role, communication with stake holders and government and finally networking with services to work from a collaborative framework in order to achieve purposeful outcomes and meet client goals and expectations.
In conclusion, there are many legal considerations social worker in the field of youth alcohol and other drugs services needs to abide by and understand clearly to be able to practise from an ethical framework. As we can see, statistically, youth alcohol and drug use has increased and continues to increase over the last two years. There are many contributing factors that impact on a young person’s decisions to use such as, family, and domestic violence, mental health, and dependants. Social workers play a vital role within the sector of youth AOD as they are the driving force and need to be political aware of changes and impact of governments. As we can see over the last few years there has been an increase in funds directed at reducing and treating drug ICE users. Finally, Social workers in the filed of youth AOD can be influenced by local, state and commonwealth funding. Funding can impact in the service delivery as seen with Youth Off The Street Dunlea AOD program, where the family program influenced the rest of the youth program therefore funding was directed at family intervention. Social work practise hold a significant position as human right activists and child protection activists, social workers are community leaders and have a set of policies, frameworks and make key contributions for the common good of people and society.
- Adhikari, P. & Summerill, A. (1998). National Drug Strategy Household Survey: Detailed findings. AIHW Canberra 2000.
- Australian Bureau of Statistics (1998). 1997 Australian Survey of Mental Health and Well Being, Canberra.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2002. (2001). National Drug Strategy Household Survey: First results. AIHW Cat No. PHE 35. Canberra: AIHW (Drug Statistics Series No 9).
- Bowles, K. (2003). Age of consent to medical treatment, FindLaw Australia. <http://www.findlaw.com.au/articles/default. asp?task=read&id=10022&site=CN> viewed 29 April 2008. 2 Wheeler, R.(2006). Gillick or Fraser? A plea for consistency over competence in children. BMJ 332:807.
- Bird, S. (2005). Can children and adolescents consent to their own medical treatment? Australian Family Physician 34(1/2):73-74.
- Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care, Canberra, (2001). Alcohol in Australia: Issues and Strategies.
- Commonwealth Government of Australia (1998). National Drug Strategic Framework 1998-99 to 2002-03: Building partnerships. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
- National Drug Strategy Household survey (1994). Urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander \ Peoples Supplement, Canberra.
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