Research to Inform the Development of the Youth Diversion Communication Strategy in the East Kimberly and Central Desert Region (CDR)

Table of contents

  1. Executive summary
  2. Research objectives
  3. Methodology
  4. Research findings
  5. Conclusions
  6. Recommendations for communications development

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1. Executive summary 

This research project was conducted on behalf of the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) to inform future communication strategies and policy designed to reduce the incidence of substance abuse among Aboriginal young people in the East Kimberly and Central Desert Regions (CDR). This research was conducted by the Cultural and Indigenous Research Centre Australia (CIRCA).

The key project objectives were to

  • Identify communication targets, messages, tools and resources used to date as well as the possible variations in messages across different target audiences and regions
  • Identify the current range of programs, physical and service resources and communication strategies in the target regions
  • Identify strategies for engaging partners and stakeholders in FaHCSIA communications strategies to achieve a more integrated, community-focussed approach.

This research is based on stakeholder interviews conducted in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, and included site visits to Docker River (NT) and Kununurra (WA). The site visits included interviews with community stakeholders, community members and young people. In total 17 stakeholders from the CDR and 13 from WA were consulted, with young people, elders and community members from Docker River and two young men from Kununurra also consulted in the research. Research was conducted from September to October 2009.

One of the major findings of this research is that communications are not seen as a priority for addressing Volatile Substance Abuse (VSA) among Aboriginal young people. The stakeholders included in the research felt that there is a significant need for funding and long term support for youth diversion programs, and that this investment is likely to have the greatest impact with regards to VSA, when compared to an investment in communications development.

As well, several other concerns were raised with regards to communications development:

  • It was unanimously felt that due to the sensitive nature of petrol sniffing (and indeed VSA more widely), it is inappropriate to conduct large-scale communications in this area. For example, several stakeholders noted that one of the risks of informing young people that petrol sniffing is dangerous and harmful in contexts where sniffing is not an issue, is that it may act as an education tool on 'how to get high'. It was felt that any communication surrounding VSA would need to be sensitively approached and sparingly used.
  • There were concerns about message fatigue, especially in relation to the Northern Territory Emergency Response (NTER). It was suggested that this can be addressed through the use of a model where youth workers who are based in the communities are the 'plug in' point for all visiting services and bureaucrats to help manage engagement and communications on youth diversion and VSA issues.
  • In terms of a national or even state or territory based communications strategy, it was felt that messages would get 'lost in translation' as many of the targeted audiences have limited English and literacy levels. The clear preference is for communications to be developed at the community level and delivered in-language.

The research however did identify potential opportunities with regards to communications development, where this is a component of youth engagement and education processes. This approach is based on working with at-risk youth to design and develop resources that target other young people. This method can effectively engage youth with key messages on harm minimisation and prevention, and educate them on the long term affects of substance misuse. Key benefits of this approach are that young people have ownership of the messages, and messages are highly targeted in terms of language and relevance.

When considering message delivery for young people in the CDR and the Kimberley region, the research indicates that a fluid, dynamic and interactive communication strategy is most appropriate. Within this, there is a wide range of target audiences to be considered, and varying information needs, as summarised below:

  • Young people – while young people are the primary target audience, the research indicates that delivering messages appropriately to young people in remote communities is very challenging, and that messages need to be highly targeted and relevant. Based on the research, a broad approach to message delivery is not appropriate. For example, information needs and delivery channels vary considerably across communities and within communities, with requests from the stakeholders included in the research to design messages in consultation with young people, targeting at-risk youth with specific messages addressing risk-taking behaviour. For example, there were several approaches identified in the research where young people were engaged to develop messages targeting specific substance youth behaviour, and this approach was deemed to be effective in transferring information. There is a need for information on the risks of VSA, and making healthy lifestyle choices, although specific messages need to be developed in consultation with young people themselves. Based on this, the main need with regards to message delivery is informing young people of the risks and impact of VSA, and within this, offering young people an opportunity to articulate their concerns and aspirations. As mentioned above, message and communications development with young people was seen as a diversionary activity that offers an opportunity for youth engagement.

  • Key influencers: families, elders, community leaders – It is important that families, elders and community leaders are engaged when addressing substance use among youth. This group needs information on addressing substance use concerns, with an approach that leads to empowerment, ownership and greater control. There is a need for strategies to be developed at the local level that are highly targeted and relevant. Examples where this approach had worked well in the research were based on local organisations working in partnership with families and other key influencers to meet their information needs, and provide advice and assistance in addressing any concerns.

  • Service providers and community organisations – The research identified a high level of interest from these organisations to form long-term partnerships with government. As well, there is a clear need for two-way information delivery, so that information is delivered to organisations by government and vice versa. In the Central Desert Region, the greatest need is for interactive engagement in order to share ideas, identify opportunities and strategies, and to utilise the local knowledge and expertise of these service providers in working with government, in partnership, to address youth diversion and VSA. In the East Kimberley region, there are fewer organisations with expertise on VSA within the Indigenous remote community context, and therefore there are opportunities for government to work together with these organisations to enhance the skills of local organisations, and to create stronger working relationships 'on the ground' with Aboriginal organisations and other youth services, in order to facilitate interagency communications. Intermediaries in this context include Aboriginal organisations, youth services, Police and health services.

  • Youth workers – Youth workers based in communities were seen as an effective service model for delivering youth diversion programs and messages to young people. It will be important that these youth workers are provided with training and support to develop youth engagement approaches that include message development in an interactive way. FaHCSIA should work with organisations in the relevant regions that are skilled and resourced in youth development, in order to provide guidelines for youth workers on community engagement. This support should also include examples of successful approaches that have been used in the past, clear guidelines on developing relationships and engagement strategies within communities, as well as links to organisations or resources that can assist (for example, new media activities).

  • Retailers – There were several examples in Alice Springs where organisations have worked closely with retailers to develop supply reduction strategies. The research suggests there are opportunities to expand this strategy in the East Kimberley region. As well, it may be possible for locally based youth workers to work with local organisations and retailers to identify potential supply reduction strategies that are appropriate for individual communities.

  • Non-Indigenous residents – The research identified a need to design and implement communications targeting non-Indigenous residents on Opal fuel to dispel myths about potential harm Opal fuel may cause vehicles

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2. Research Objectives 

This research project was conducted on behalf of the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) in order to inform future communication strategies and policy designed to reduce the incidence of substance abuse among Aboriginal young people in the East Kimberly and Central Desert Regions (CDR). This research was conducted by the Cultural and Indigenous Research Centre Australia (CIRCA).

The key project objectives were as follows:

  • Identify and evaluate specific communication targets, messages, tools and resources used to date as well as the possible variations in messages across different target audiences and regions
    • Identify key target audiences (i.e. youth, community elders, service providers, government agencies) and key messages to promote healthy and active lifestyles and to support community aspirations
  • Identify the current range of programs, physical and service resources and communication strategies currently deployed in the target regions. Within this, understand the communications 'clutter' of messaging targeting young people with active life choices, diversions from substance abuse and community resources for petrol sniffing prevention and rehabilitation.
  • Identify strategies for engaging partners and stakeholders in FaHCSIA communication strategies to achieve a more integrated, community-focussed approach
    • Explore opportunities for FaHCSIA in working with other Commonwealth Government and State and Territory partners to develop long term, consistent and sustainable communication strategies to support youth diversion programs in remote communities
    • Determine key linkages in resources, networks and programs that would support optimal communication and best practice in future policy development.

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3. Methodology 

This research is based on stakeholder interviews conducted in the Northern Territory and Western Australia, and included site visits to Docker River (NT) and Kununurra (WA). The site visits included interviews with community stakeholders, community members and young people.

In total 17 stakeholders from the CDR and 13 from WA were consulted, with young people, elders and community members from Docker River and two young men from Kununurra also consulted in the research. Research was conducted from September to October 2009.

Table 1: Research Participants

Central Desert Region

  • Central Australian Petrol Sniffing Unit (CAPSU)
  • Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women's Council
  • Drug and Alcohol Services Association (DASA)
  • Bushmob
  • Gap Youth Centre-Internet Café
  • Waltja
  • Mt Theo, Yuendumu
  • Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA)
  • Central Australian Youth Link Up Service (CAYLUS)
  • Alice Springs Film and Television

Docker River Site Visit

  • Employment Consultant, Anangu Jobs
  • Team Leader, Mission Australia Youth Program
  • Aboriginal Youth Worker
  • Registered Nurse, Docker River Health Clinic
  • General Services Manager, Docker River Shire
  • Community Rangers (2)
  • 6 Elders
  • 3 Community members
  • 5 CDEP workers
  • 17 young men (aged 13-16 years)
  • 8 young women (12-23 years)

East Kimberley Region

  • Volatile Substances Program, WA Drug and Alcohol Office, Perth
  • Western Australian Network of Alcohol and other Drug Agencies (WANADA), Broome
  • Jungarni-Jutiya Alcohol Action Council, Halls Creek
  • Manager Community and Youth Services, Shire of Halls Creek
  • Save the Children, Kununurra

Kununurra Site Visit

  • Attendance at Youth Provider Network Meeting
  • Ord Valley Aboriginal Health Service (OVAHS)
  • Gelganyum Trust
  • Wunan Foundation
  • Kimberley Community Drug Service
  • Regional Youth Development Coordinator
  • Principal, Kununurra State School
  • Police Inspector
  • Mirrawa - Gadgerong Corporation (MG Corp)
  • Paired depth with two young men aged 15-17 years

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4. Research Findings 

4.1 Setting the scene

During this research CIRCA approached several youth focused services in Alice Springs, Kununurra, Halls Creek and surrounding areas, to scope the programs, communications and messaging that exist in these areas targeting substance misuse among Aboriginal young people.

This research offers a snapshot of how youth focused services are delivered in these areas, but does not comprehensively map all services provided in all remote communities in the Central Australian and East Kimberley Regions.

This research mapped the service delivery landscape with regards to youth diversion, in order to understand communication opportunities and current experience in this area.

4.1.1 Central Desert Region

With the exception of Alice Springs, communities in this area are classified as remote or very remote. These remote communities are mostly geographically isolated and may, although not exclusively, consist of basic services such as:

  • Health clinic
  • Shire offices
  • Community store
  • School (primary and occasionally secondary)
  • Arts centre.

For additional services such as youth specific services (including diversion programs), drug and alcohol services (including volatile substance services), specialist medical services (including mental health and allied health services), Alice Springs, and other regional hubs (such as Tennant Creek and Katherine) are accessed. Access to these services is based on visits to Alice Springs, or where funding permits, outreach work conducted in communities by these services. Organisations in Alice Springs generally focus on servicing either the township region (including town camps) or remote communities, as focusing on both requires considerable resource and funding allocation.

Alice Springs

Due to historical and geographical circumstance, Alice Springs has long been the central hub for service delivery for the CDR area. With a range of government and non-government organisations residing in Alice Springs, there are several youth specific services available to young Aboriginal people in both the town and surrounding communities. These programs range from harm minimisation initiatives to preventative programs, and run on a short term and long term basis.

To the outside eye these services may seem to represent a cacophony of voices targeting substance misuse among Aboriginal young people. However it is important to note that many services are specific in their scope and may only target one geographical, cultural or linguistic area or group of people.

The following table provides a summary of some of the key organisations servicing young people in Alice Springs and surrounding communities in the area of youth diversion.

Table 2: Youth focused services in Alice Springs and surrounding communities
Organisation Geographical Scope Role
Central Australian Youth Link Up Service (CAYLUS) Remote (over 20 communities in the CDR). Also work with retailers in Alice Springs Has been running for seven years. Run out of Tangenterye Council. Looks at the affects of substance misuse on Aboriginal youth.CAYLUS' focus is on remote communities, working in 20 communities around the CDR. They also work closely with retailers in the Alice Springs area to develop supply reduction strategies. Their focus is primarily, although not exclusively, Volatile Substance Abuse (VSA), and more specifically petrol sniffing. However, since the introduction of Opal fuel they work in managing VSA outbreaks as well as working to address youth diversion and substance misuse more broadly.
NPY Women's Council Remote (over 25 remote communities in NT, WA and SA) NPYWC's region covers 350,000 square kilometres to the remote tri-state cross-border area of Western Australia, South Australia and Northern Territory.The organisation is run by twelve members from the region, including a Chairwoman and Vice-Chairwoman. NPYWC began as an advocacy organisation, and now is a major provider of human services in the region, including youth programs.
Waltja Remote – the organisation services a large number of communities, the youth program services four remote communities Whilst not specifically offering a youth service, Waltja receives funding from FaHCSIA to run the Youth Connect program. Via this funding they service four communities including Santa Theresa, Tijikala, Papunya and Mt Leibig. Along with individual case management for at-risk youth, Waltja also offers group activities reconnecting youth with country. When funds permit they take groups of youth out bush with Elders, and have found this model of youth diversion very successful. Whilst they only access four communities in their youth service delivery there has been an identified need from members of other communities for the delivery of youth services in other areas.
Bushmob CDR Bushmob programs are for young people who are at-risk of being disengaged and marginalised, or subjected to substance abuse, violence, unsafe living environments and disempowerment. Bushmob began as a pilot program with one staff member and has now grown into an incorporated body with eight staff members, volunteers, peer group mentors and four programs. Bushmob runs Bush Adventure Therapy program, which includes one-day bush trips, through to overnight camps or camps for up to two weeks. The service also runs 'Bushmob media', which includes audio/video production, and a residential service for young people aged 12 to 18 years who want to 'get their life back on track without alcohol, drugs and volatile substances'.
The Gap Youth Centre Alice Springs and its immediate surrounds (60km radius) The Gap Youth Centre (the Gap) is a 'drop-in' facility that offers education programs and has an internet café. All services are free and they have a client base of around 40 Aboriginal youths. The geographical area that they cover includes Alice Springs and the town camps. Through their facilities they run a youth diversion program in the evenings and also provide facilities for other organisations (such as Relationships Australia) to deliver services to their clients.
Mt Theo Yuendumu, Willowra, Lajamanu and Nyirrpi Mt Theo runs a range of programs in the four communities it works with. Yuendumu Programs include the Jaru Pirrjirdi Youth Development (incorporating Yuendumu Youth Program), the Warra Warra Kanyi Youth Counselling and Mentoring Service, the Yuendumu Community Swimming Pool, and the Yuendumu Mechanic Training Workshop. They also run the Mt Theo Outstation Cultural Respite and Rehabilitation centre. Outreach Programs include the Willowra Youth Development Program, the Lajamanu Youth Development Program, and the Nyirrpi Youth Development Program.


4.1.2 East Kimberly Region

Most consultations were conducted with organisations based in Kununurra (site visit) and Halls Creek. Additional stakeholders were accessed in Broome and Perth. It is worth noting that in comparison to Alice Springs, there are fewer youth services in the Kununurra area, and fewer services where staff have expertise in working with Aboriginal young people in remote communities.

The following table provides a summary of some of the organisations identified in the research. As can be seen, there are large gaps with regards to services targeting Aboriginal youth.

Table 3: Youth focused services in Kununurra
Organisation Scope Role
Ord Valley Aboriginal Health Service (OVAHS) Kununurra and its surrounds Ord Valley Aboriginal Health Service provides comprehensive primary health care services to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in the Kununurra region. Clinical services and health programs include pregnancy, child health, sexual health, care of people with chronic diseases, mental health, and general health education. This organisation is well respected by the Aboriginal community of Kununurra and employs several Indigenous staff.
The Gelganyum Trust Services 11 Aboriginal communities in and around Kununurra. Gelganyem Trust aims to build a strong and healthy future for Aboriginal people in East Kimberley. The Trust funds programs that promote Aboriginal people of East Kimberley to:
  • be healthy, culturally and economically strong
  • have the same lifestyle opportunities as the rest of the population
  • have great choices for themselves and Australia
  • have well educated children
  • live sustainably and peacefully together
  • be employed by the Trust.
Kimberly Community Drug Service Kimberley Region - Service open to the public This organisation provides an alcohol and other drugs (AOD) service to towns and communities within the Kimberley region, to reduce and eliminate the AOD related harm. Counselling is provided as well as early intervention and harm minimisation strategies, with key agencies in the communities. The Kimberley Community Drug Service Team offers professional development and training in addictions, as well as support for schools and the community in dealing efficiently with alcohol and drug related harm.
Regional Youth Development Coordinator – Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley Kununurra This position is funded by the local Shire to provide an inter-agency service for the youth of Kununurra. A few programs identified in the research included Sunset Basketball (8 week program), the Blue Light disco (one in the last 12 months), Deadly Diva's Day, which is part of the Holiday program for children, and a hip hop program.
Mirrawa-Gadgerong Corporation (MG Corp) Kununurra and surrounding communities The MG Corp was established in late 2005 as part of the Ord Final Agreement to receive and manage the benefits coming from that agreement with the establishment of an Economic Development Unit. The Organisation aims to improve the social, cultural and economic well being of the Miriuwung Gajerrong people through jobs and training and improved living standards.

Communication Implications:

Given the differing service framework and community service infrastructure in the CDR and Kimberley region, opportunities for developing youth diversion communications vary:

  • In the CDR there are a large number of organisations with expertise in delivering youth diversion in remote communities. Strategies targeting the CDR need to tap into the existing service infrastructure and organisational networks
  • In the Kimberley region there are fewer services with expertise in remote youth diversion service delivery. The focus for communications should be on enhancing the skills capacity of locally based organisations to deliver appropriate messages targeting Indigenous young people.


4.2 Key Research Themes
 

4.2.1 Substance Use

Since the roll out of Opal fuel in the CDR and the East Kimberly Regions, reports of petrol sniffing have been minimal. Despite occasional outbreaks in a few isolated communities, there is substantiated evidence supporting supply reduction strategies (such as the availability of Opal fuel) as unequivocal in alleviating most petrol sniffing across these areas. Several stakeholders consulted in this research conveyed this opinion and fully supported the legislation of Opal across CDR and other parts of Australia as a primary strategy for addressing petrol sniffing.

Around the Alice Springs area, there are organisations who are working closely with retailers to roll out similar supply reduction strategies curbing the availability and restricting the sale of other volatile substances. One such strategy pursued by Central Australian Youth Link-Up Service (CAYLUS) has involved working with retailers to source low-fume spray paints and restrict the sale of glue to minors.

Alongside this, retailers in Alice Springs have banded together under a voluntary code of practice – 'No School No Service' - whereby retailers agree to refuse service to any child under the age of 15 without adult supervision in shops during school hours. Whilst relatively new (introduced in March 2009), many local youth services are optimistic about this code of practice.

As mentioned above, there has been a significant reduction in VSA since the roll out of Opal fuel in 2007, although it is important to note that sniffing still occurs on occasion, with outbreaks that tend to be infrequent, and locally contained.

Where sniffing outbreaks have occurred, the research suggests organisations in these locations have been quick to target and respond to outbreaks, and work with local communities to isolate the incidences swiftly. For example, in one remote community an organisation had dispatched a youth worker who spent three months in the community working closely with the local sport and recreation workers in a mentoring role, and assisting in running the youth program. This involved liaising with community, and involving older people in the youth program. For example, the youth worker organised for older men to teach young people how to make boomerangs, and a video of this was produced for the community. This included accessing professionals who did training on video production in the community, and the video was shown at the local movie night. As well, the rapid response team visited the community in the first two days after the outbreak had been identified and worked directly with the sniffers and their family. When working with the family, they utilised a DVD that CAYLUS and NPY had developed on the VSA Act, which was seen to be very effective in explaining the consequences to young people. At the end of the three month program, the youths had stopped sniffing and at the time of the research there had been no further reports of sniffing outbreaks in this community. Within the CDR, there were several examples of sniffing outbreaks that have been successfully addressed, and this success can be attributed to the youth programs that are specifically designed to address VSA, and because of the culture within the service provider organisations of working closely with communities.

Similar responses were gathered from stakeholder interviews in the East Kimberly Region with regards to supply reduction strategies. Many organisations consulted felt that supply reduction strategies, specifically the implementation of Opal fuel, have affected communities positively and have been fundamental in decreasing the extent of sniffing outbreaks in these areas. It is worth noting that Opal fuel is not supplied in the Halls Creek service station.

Along with Opal supply reduction strategies, in WA the East Kimberly Implementation Strategy is in its second year of operation. Some stakeholders felt this group had positively impacted and informed strategies designed to deal with outbreaks of sniffing and VSA at a local level.

The East Kimberley Implementation Strategy is made up of Federal, State and Local Government representatives, and non-Government organisations (NGOs). The main partners for this strategy include several Federal Government agencies (FaHCSIA, Department of Health and Ageing, Attorney General's Department and Department of Employment, Education and Workplace Relations), WA agencies (Drug and Alcohol Office, Department of Child Protection, Department of Indigenous Affairs, Police, Kimberley Community Drug Service Team and Kimberley Mental Health and Drug Service) and Local Government (Shire of Wyndham East Kimberley and Shire of Halls Creek). The NGOs include Save the Children, MG Corp, and Wunan Foundation. There are also community partners and interested members, including a wide range of community organisations and Aboriginal organisations. The implementation strategy is focused on containing the incidence of VSA, and on increasing the resilience and strength of young people. Included in this interagency initiative is a comprehensive Rapid Response Protocol which has worked effectively to contain and manage volatile substance misuse by youth in the area. Every stakeholder has been given a protocol to follow if there is an outbreak in the community. Included in this strategy are resources delivered to organisations from a state level which provide basic information about VSA and avenues for organisations to follow. The interagency model has also been successful in pooling resources and reducing clutter.

It is important to note that while the interagency initiative is in its early days, it was viewed as having been successful to date, and currently the WA government is looking to replicate this model across the state.

Alcohol and marijuana use a major concern

Stakeholders reported increases in marijuana use and cited marijuana and alcohol as the substances causing the greatest harm in communities generally, and for young people in particular.

Most stakeholders consulted in both regions raised concerns about the supply and availability of marijuana in communities, and this was also identified by young men in an East Kimberley community. The two young boys interviewed in the East Kimberley community reported that most of the men that they knew are either “yarndi up” (using marijuana) or “on the charge”. In a Mac Donnell Shire community marijuana was a more recent concern, and although it was not seen to be a major health issue, all stakeholders and community members included in the research would like to see it removed from the community. It was noted that the marijuana dealers usually buy supplies from South Australia, and the purchase of marijuana is often done (every couple of weeks/once a month) via road travel on un-gazetted roads at night, ensuring the dealers go undetected by the police.

Alcohol was a key concern in the East Kimberley community, with several stakeholders noting that the extent of the problem has increased as “drinkers come into town” from dry communities.

Communication Implications:

  • Messages for young people should be inclusive of a range of substances, including volatile substances, alcohol and marijuana
  • There are opportunities to target community leaders and organisations with messages on managing petrol sniffing outbreaks in the Kimberley region
  • Retailers are also an important target audience for communications regarding supply reduction strategies.

 4.2.2 Communications not a priority

Among the organisations included in the research, it was very clear that communications are not seen as a priority. At the coal face there is a real and urgent need for funding and long term support for youth diversion programs, and this need is greater than a need for a communications strategy. It was felt that basic resources for communities should be prioritised before a communications strategy targeting young people is considered.

One-on-one approaches preferred

Additionally, instead of a national or even state or territory campaign, stakeholders felt that government needs to work alongside local organisations to build up and resource local youth programs as the primary communications method. It was articulated that communication needs to be one-on-one, and where possible, delivered by a local worker in-language.

Example: Youth Diversion

The Gap Youth Centre services the Alice Springs area. Their facilities include an internet café and a drop-in centre where youth can interact in a safe environment that supports recreational, sporting, cultural and educational activities. Most of the clients serviced are school age but are not in any formal education system. Recently, an education re-engagement program, 'Alice Outcomes', was started for students who had previously left school, and through the program they have a chance to access an informal self-paced learning centre. Recently, two 'at-risk' boys had joined the program. Prior to this they had been in trouble with the law, and as a result were chosen for the program and given one-on-one mentoring. These boys were offered tutoring a couple of times a week, and had increased their engagement with the program from one hour at a time to six hours a day. These boys were offered a safe and supportive environment in which to learn, and part of this involved being mentored by Indigenous role models. Delivering key messages on education and self esteem via this model has proved to be a successful means for accessing an otherwise marginalised and hard-to-reach group.

Another example identified in the research was the Papunya Internet Café, where organisations have worked alongside the Papunya community to access money to create this service. The idea for a café came from the community themselves and has proved successful for a range of age groups. In particular, this service has been effective in reaching young people 12 years and over who are not in formal education. Many in this 'at-risk' group have poor literacy and numeracy levels, and having access to computers in an informal and non-threatening environment has helped to improve literacy levels. It is hoped that in the future there will be room to run education re-engagement programs in this setting.

Communication Implications:

  • There is a clear need for FaHCSIA to work with local organisations in communications development, but these relationships may be difficult to forge unless the communications strategy is linked to what these organisations perceive as “real” benefits for young people, such as youth diversion activities or skills development. These communication strategies should respond to local needs.

 4.2.3 Opportunity to develop a communications network

The research highlighted that there is a real need for a network that facilitates communication between community organisations and government, thus creating a link from the bottom-up. Currently many organisations feel isolated from government in the field of youth diversion. What is desperately needed is a two-way communication model to not only deliver messages from government to local organisations, but to also transfer information from these organisations to government. This is vital for creating effective and appropriate policy in these areas. Most organisations engaged during consultations welcomed a new model of communication between community organisations and government departments.

Example: Stakeholder Interagency

One organisation in Alice Springs reported that what was needed was “a system which is set up to respond to information from the ground up”. It was noted that currently, efforts have been made to set up a youth services stakeholder and government meeting in Alice Springs. Whilst this is not a forum for decision making, it does provide an opportunity to discuss issues and convey information from the ground up. It was hoped that, although it was expensive to get everyone together in one place, these meetings would increase in frequency.

Communication Implications:

  • A key priority of FaHCSIA should be the development and strengthening of community networks in each region. If successful, this will provide a key communication channel for targeting young people from remote communities. These organisations are also a priority target audience, providing opportunities for two-way communication between Government and community.
  • This forum will offer opportunities to discuss policy, resources, community feedback, and program needs.


4.2.4 Youth models to address communication clutter

Since the roll out of the Northern Territory Emergency Response, communities around the Northern Territory have been inundated with messaging. In already crowded environments there were many reports that communities had 'tuned out' and were 'message fatigued'. In terms of embarking on a communications strategy, many organisations felt that communication strategies targeting youth and community members would be ineffectual or have limited use in an already overcrowded communications landscape. Similarly, it was felt that programs needed to be long term in their focus, as new (usually white) faces appearing all the time fatigues communities further. When programs change regularly, communities are deterred from engagement, and confidence in programs is eroded. Thus messages delivered via these programs do not effectively reach their target audiences.

One model was strongly recommended as a preferred option for combating message and program fatigue, and for leading to the longevity or sustainability of service delivery. This model is based on having one male and one female youth worker on the ground in each community. These workers act as a 'plug in' point for all visiting services and bureaucrats to help manage engagement on youth diversion and VSA issues.

These qualified and experienced workers should work alongside a team of local community members who act as the conduits for messages and youth focused programs. Where this model is in place everyone's efforts can be coordinated in one local point and local communities will not get bombarded with messages and/or message fatigued. This model also provides a go-to point in communities, providing government agencies with access to workers' networks and relationships with community members. Further, key messages can be delivered in communities, on the ground and one-on-one.

This model is believed to be successful and was viewed as a best practice model applicable for remote communities across the NT and East Kimberley Regions. Stakeholders referred positively to the Larapinta learning centre model and the Hidden Valley model that operate in town camps, where community development workers act as the 'plug in' point or coordination point.

It is important to note here that for such a model to succeed, youth workers need to be both qualified and experienced in working in a remote Indigenous setting. These positions should be advertised locally first, then opened up if no suitable community member is available. There have been reports that this model has failed when workers who are inexperienced in a remote setting have been employed. Instead of helping solve the problem, inexperienced workers can potentially make the situation worse, with comments given on high staff turn-over in these cases, as workers seldom stay long in communities. These positions need a high level of support from the organisation and government.

Additionally, if a non-local youth worker is employed, their role needs to incorporate mentoring local community members, in the hope that one day their position will be filled by a community member.

Communication Implications:

  • Need for a plug-in-point with local connections, and youth workers are the natural conduit for information delivery.


4.2.5 Opal fuel communications needed

Several stakeholders felt there is a need for a communications strategy on Opal fuel, targeting non-Aboriginal Australians and tourists in the CDR and East Kimberley Regions.

In both locations myths exist around Opal fuel, and it was reported that 50% of people in Alice Springs still use non-Opal fuel, due to perceptions that Opal fuel is dangerous for vehicles. The research suggests that in both locations there is a need for a communications strategy targeting regional towns and communities to dispel these myths. Indeed, in response to this need, two organisations in the CDR had designed and distributed a community advertisement for local communities dispelling these myths. There were also reports that the WA government had implemented a campaign targeting tourists, and that there had been some success with this strategy.

Communication Implications:

  • FaHCSIA should develop communications targeting non-Indigenous residents and tourists, dispelling myths regarding the negative impact of Opal fuel on car engines.


4.2.6 Volatile Substance Abuse is a sensitive issue

In terms of communication strategies, it was unanimously felt that due to the sensitive nature of petrol sniffing (and indeed VSA more widely), it is inappropriate to conduct large-scale communications in this area. For example, several stakeholders noted that one of the risks of informing young people that petrol sniffing is dangerous and harmful in contexts where sniffing is not an issue, is that it may act as an education tool on 'how to get high'. It was felt that any communication surrounding VSA would need to be sensitively approached and sparingly used.

Communication Implications:

  • Locally developed strategies that rely on expertise from relevant community organisations should be used to ensure messages are culturally appropriate and relevant, in order to minimise the chance for these messages to be misinterpreted.


4.2.7 An engagement model is the preferred communication strategy

Several organisations saw merit in creating communications strategies as part of youth engagement and education processes. Organisations reported success in delivering key messages to at-risk youth using this approach.

This model employs at-risk youth to design and develop resources aimed at targeting other users. This method is a subtle and non-lecturing process which can effectively engage youth with key messages on harm minimisation and prevention, and educate them on the long term affects of substance misuse. Several examples were given of youth diversion programs that included communications development and/or use of media. While one of the goals of these programs was to develop messages for at-risk young people, this was a secondary outcome, as the primary aims were to provide youth diversion activities and to deliver information to the at-risk youth involved. A key benefit of this approach is that young people have ownership of the messages. As well, messages are developed that are highly targeted in terms of language and relevance.

In terms of a national or even state or territory based communications strategy, it was also felt that messages would get 'lost in translation' as many of the targeted audiences have limited English and literacy levels.

In this instance it was felt that if any communications strategy was to be rolled out, it would need to be developed at the community level and delivered in-language.

Example: The engagement model - thinking creatively about 'process'

Recently in Alice Springs an organisation was alerted to a fingernail glue sniffing problem among a group of teenagers. The organisation employed these teenagers to create a resource highlighting the harmful effects of such drug use on the body. This process enabled a level of ownership over the initiative, and it was also a very successful diversion technique. In short, the process of creating the communications (when done at a community level with targeted individuals) was seen to be more effective than the communications outcome (the resource).

Similar methods have been employed by other organisations around the CDR. For example, one media organisation received funding for a youth diversion strategy, and used media as a tool for engagement. This program included regular workshops with young people aimed at developing media skills. The role of the organisation was as a facilitator of these workshops, allowing content to be drawn out and developed. During this program young people designed radio and TV programs exploring local issues and these were made in-language. This program provided young people with ownership over the product and skills in new media. Whilst the end result or product was reportedly received well in communities, undeniably it was the process of articulating these messages (in-language) and at a local level that was crucial to the successful delivery of the key messages.

Feedback was also gathered on the HITnet resource, which includes two interactive films (one targeted at girls and one targeted at boys) delivering sexual health messages. In the movies the story line is interactive, so that the young people can make different decisions for the characters. The films are locally made. One organisation in Kununurra had used this resource with young people several times over the last year. They felt it was a very valuable resource, as the young people “really paid attention and enjoyed watching it”. The stakeholder also noted that several days after the film had been shown, the young people brought it up when discussing sexual health, and recalled the themes from the film.

The relevance and interactive nature of the film were seen as very valuable - “it is not lecturing, and involves every day situations that they would see around them.” This worker also noted that she had been told of the resource by some of the young people who were workplace trainees, who suggested the service access this resource. A stakeholder commented that young people feel comfortable using this resource as it does not require adult control, and they had noticed a lot of young men going up and “checking it out”, which would not have happened if adults were needed to access the resource, especially as most are female staff. One barrier identified was that there is no central youth facility in Kununurra where the kiosk could be based permanently (it is used as a resource at various workshops and events). Another opportunity for improvement would be to include local services on the resource.

It is also worth noting that at the time of the research NPY had just received a grant from MYER foundation to buy four HITnet Kiosks. The youth workers were excited about the kiosks and felt that the community would get a lot out of them as they contained locally made films and stories. They felt in terms of communications that HITNET was an exciting option as it was interactive and the organisations could monitor their usage as well.

Communication Implications:

  • FaHCSIA should develop communications that are based on an engagement model, so that message delivery occurs through activities, skills development or other diversionary activities targeting young people in remote communities.


4.2.8 Relationships with funding bodies

Many organisations wished for improved relationships with funding bodies, with a view to forging lasting partnerships, and in a bid to secure funding for future projects beyond one or two years to tackle long-term issues.

Many organisations felt they needed better access to grant information with central 'go-to' points for accessing information. One stakeholder in Kununurra advised similarly that access to resources needed to rest with one lead government agency. Further it was argued that this body should consult with the Indigenous community in a real and constructive manner to tackle social problems in the community. There were concerns that often staff based in regional centres are not accessible to remote communities, with infrequent visits and a lack of focus and understanding of the needs in these communities.

“There are many programs….they are not reaching out to the grass roots level…work needs to be done in a partnership.”

“Communication processes or the lack of it are at the root of the problem…many government workers are too scared to venture into Aboriginal communities…there needs to be a direct line to the source of the resources.”

Communication Implications:

  • The development and strengthening of networks with local organisations in each region by FaHCSIA will provide a two-way information flow which is likely to enhance the effectiveness of many community based organisations, and also increase the level of community feedback that FaHCSIA receives.

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5. Conclusions 

The aim of this research was to explore communication targets, messages, tools and resources, with the aim of informing the development of a consistent and sustainable communication strategy designed to reduce the incidence of substance abuse among Aboriginal young people in the East Kimberly and Central Desert Regions (CDR). Within this, the research explored both the communications and program landscape with regards to youth diversion. While young people, community members and elders were included in the research, the majority of consultations were conducted with service providers.

The key finding from this research is that communications are not seen as a priority for addressing VSA among Aboriginal young people. The stakeholders included in the research felt that there is a significant need for funding and support for youth diversion programs, and that this investment is likely to have the greatest impact with regards to VSA when compared to an investment in communications development. Given this, it was not possible to gather detailed feedback on possible messages and target audiences.

As well, several other concerns were raised with regards to communications development:

  • It was unanimously felt that due to the sensitive nature of petrol sniffing (and indeed VSA more widely), it is inappropriate to conduct large-scale communications in this area. For example, several stakeholders noted that one of the risks of informing young people that petrol sniffing is dangerous and harmful in contexts where sniffing is not an issue, is that it may act as an education tool on 'how to get high'. It was felt that any communication surrounding VSA would need to be sensitively approached and sparingly used.
  • There were concerns about message fatigue, especially in relation to the NTER. It was suggested that this can be addressed through the use of a model where youth workers based in the communities are the 'plug in' point for all visiting services and bureaucrats to help manage engagement and communications on youth diversion and VSA issues.
  • In terms of a national or even state or territory based communications strategy, it was felt that messages would get 'lost in translation' as many of the targeted audiences have limited English and literacy levels. The clear preference is for communications to be developed at the community level and delivered in-language.

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6. Recommendations 

The research identified potential opportunities with regards to communications development, where this is a focus on youth engagement and education. This approach is based on working with at-risk youth to design and develop resources that target other young people. This method can effectively engage youth with key messages on harm minimisation and prevention, and educate them on the long term affects of substance misuse. Key benefits of this approach are that young people have ownership of the messages, and messages are highly targeted in terms of language and relevance.

Therefore, based on the research findings, the following recommendations are made with regards to future communications and program development.

6.1 Target Audience and Key Messages

When considering message delivery for young people in the CDR and the Kimberley region, the research indicates that a fluid, dynamic and interactive communication strategy is most appropriate.

Within this, there is a wide range of target audiences to be considered, and varying information needs, as summarised below:

 

6.1.1 Young people

While young people are the primary target audience, the research indicates that delivering messages appropriately to young people in remote communities is very challenging, and that messages need to be highly targeted and relevant. Based on the research, a broad approach to message delivery is not appropriate. For example, information needs and delivery channels vary considerably across communities and within communities, with requests from the stakeholders included in the research to design messages in consultation with young people, targeting at-risk youth with specific messages addressing risk-taking behaviour. For example, there were several approaches identified in the research where young people were engaged to develop messages targeting specific substance youth behaviour, and this approach was deemed to be effective in transferring information.

There is a need for information on the risks of VSA, and making healthy lifestyle choices, although specific messages need to be developed in consultation with young people themselves. Based on this, the main need with regards to message delivery is informing young people of the risks and impact of VSA, and within this, offering young people an opportunity to articulate their concerns and aspirations. As mentioned above, message and communications development with young people was seen as a diversionary activity that offers an opportunity for youth engagement.

Youth engagement strategies that offer opportunities for delivering key messages include IT hubs/interactive IT activities, youth leadership groups or reference groups, music programs (drumming workshops, hip hop, rap etc), sporting activities and carnivals, and new media (e.g. video and radio production).

6.1.2 Key influencers: families, elders, community leaders

It is important that families, elders and community leaders are engaged when addressing substance use among youth. This group needs information on addressing substance use concerns, with an approach that leads to empowerment, ownership and greater control. There is a need for strategies to be developed at the local level that are highly targeted and relevant. Examples where this approach had worked well in the research were based on local organisations working in partnership with families and other key influencers to meet their information needs, and provide advice and assistance in addressing any concerns.

6.1.3 Service providers and community organisations

The research identified a high level of interest from these organisations to form long-term partnerships with government. As well, there is a clear need for two-way information delivery, so that information is delivered to organisations by government and vice versa. In the Central Desert Region, the greatest need is for interactive engagement in order to share ideas, identify opportunities and strategies, and to utilise the local knowledge and expertise of these service providers in working with government, in partnership, to address youth diversion and VSA. In the East Kimberley region, there are fewer organisations with expertise on VSA within the Indigenous remote community context, and therefore there are opportunities for government to work together with these organisations to enhance the skills of local organisations, and to create stronger working relationships ‘on the ground’ with Aboriginal organisations and other youth services, in order to facilitate interagency communications. Intermediaries in this context include Aboriginal organisations, youth services, Police and health services.

This forum will offer opportunities to discuss policy, resources, community feedback, and program needs.

6.1.4 Youth workers

Youth workers based in communities were seen as an effective service model for delivering youth diversion programs and messages to young people. It will be important that these youth workers are provided with training and support to develop youth engagement approaches that include message development in an interactive way. FaHCSIA should work with organisations in the relevant regions that are skilled and resourced in youth development, in order to provide guidelines for youth workers on community engagement. This support should also include examples of successful approaches that have been used in the past, clear guidelines on developing relationships and engagement strategies within communities, as well as links to organisations or resources that can assist (for example, new media activities).

6.1.5 Retailers

There were several examples in Alice Springs where organisations have worked closely with retailers to develop supply reduction strategies. The research suggests there are opportunities to expand this strategy in the East Kimberley region. As well, it may be possible for locally based youth workers to work with local organisations and retailers to identify potential supply reduction strategies that are appropriate for individual communities.

6.1.6 Non-Indigenous residents

The research identified a need to design and implement communications targeting non-Indigenous residents on Opal fuel to dispel myths about potential harm Opal fuel may cause vehicles

 

6.2 Program Context and Service Delivery

Given that the bulk of the consultations were conducted with service providers, the research identified opportunities with regards to service delivery and program and policy future directions. While these do not necessarily have a direct link with communications development, they were highlighted as key priorities by the service providers, and therefore have been included in Attachments One and Two.

6.3 Best Practice Principles

For the development of communications targeting young people, or the development of program and policy initiatives, it is important that there is a commitment from both government and community organisations to community development principles including:

  • Community consultation with a broad range of community members
  • Localisation of service delivery wherever possible
  • Community ownership over programs
  • Strong relationships between organisations and communities
  • Capacity building and mentoring of local Indigenous people
  • Using creativity & subtlety in messaging and youth programs
  • Employing qualified and experienced workers with remote experience wherever possible

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Attachment 1 - Research findings on Youth Service Delivery 

The research identified a number of considerations in relation to the service delivery of youth diversion programs. While this was beyond the scope of this project, this attachment summarises these research results.

There is a need for case management as well as youth diversion

During consultations in both regions it was found that whilst more support for locally run youth diversion strategies was requested, one-on-one case work was seen as a necessary, although mostly forgotten, addition to the successful management of youth substance misuse programs.

Reports were given about considerable levels of trauma experienced by young people, where young people have complex needs and histories. In Kununurra one stakeholder commented that Indigenous youth in their community are subjected to the "situation of normalising grog fighting, sexual abuse, physical abuse and drug abuse". Similar examples were also given in the CDR. In these contexts, it was considered that youth diversion alone is not enough to address the issues faced by youth. In Alice Springs one organisation claimed that, from their experience, young people may be too traumatised to access already existing youth diversion programs. In these situations it is simply not enough to have youth diversion, as while it may divert youth away from the issues, it is not addressing the causal issues of substance abuse. Whilst it is a step in the right direction, youth diversion is not a sufficient strategy to combat youth substance misuse in and of itself.

Case management in this context enables local organisations to assess the specific needs of an individual and connect them with appropriate services such as counselling services and drug and alcohol services. In some cases it may just involve accompanying a young person to a Centrelink appointment or a court hearing. This model takes time and relationship building is essential to the success of case management.

Example: Waltja's Reconnect Program

Waltja offers a community based early intervention service for young people age 12 to 18 years who are homeless or at-risk of homelessness. It aims to help young people achieve reconciliation with their families and improve their engagement with work, education, training and the community. This program, funded via the National Reconnect Program, has been in operation since 2002 and has funding available until 2011.

Via this service Waltja provides counselling, mediation, group work and practical support in a culturally and contextually appropriate way. An important aspect of this service is case management which involves helping young people to plan out what they need help with and assisting where possible and/or referring to other appropriate services.

In this service, Waltja currently employ one team leader and two field workers who are based in Alice Springs and travel out to communities. They also have a number of casual community workers to support the project.

One stakeholder reported that whilst this model provided a valued service in these communities, workers conducting outreach in the four communities were currently stretched to their limits and in particular did not have the resources available to respond to crisis situations. Issues surrounding funding meant that despite an identified need in other communities for these same services, this organisation has not been able to replicate the model elsewhere.

Funding needs highlighted

It is clear that there are several locally based and community oriented youth service providers in the CDR and East Kimberley. However, many services feel exhausted from 'jumping up and down and waving their hands in the air', competing for a small amount of funds. The consultations in both areas identified that relationships between community organisations and government need to be built up and strengthened in order to overcome this hurdle.

In Halls Creek it was noted that while there had been funding for sport and recreation facilities, there was no funding available to run programs, which was seen as a considerable challenge, especially as the current youth program often has 160 children in the evening, and this program is managed by two youth workers.

"There is a serious need for extra services for young people. It wears down our own staff so badly. We had one youth worker recently leave because they were worn out."

Example: Kununurra

One example highlighting the impact of a lack of funds was given in the Kununurra consultations. One stakeholder explained that they had girls and boys representative sporting teams which were both due to travel to Broome to compete in a carnival. Unfortunately there was "not enough money to send both teams" to the carnival, so a decision was made to "leave the girls behind". The stakeholder explained that "these girls felt gutted", and that a very clear and negative message had been sent to these girls that they were less valued/important than the boys.

Duplication of services

In many cases it was felt that there was a significant diversion of funds away from smaller locally based (and community run) organisations towards larger NGOs that had better access to resources and a greater ability to write applications for tenders.

For example, one organisation in the CDR reported feeling 'left out' of the funding cycle. They noted that since the implementation of the Petrol Sniffing Strategy, applying for funding had become more difficult. Despite large injections of money into the area of youth diversion, this stakeholder felt that the structure of how funding was administered, via the Central Australian Petrol Sniffing Unit, had not been successful in supporting local organisations already working in communities in the CDR.

It was felt that there was a lack of respect for local knowledge accumulated by community organisations. Many consider themselves experts on the issues faced by communities in the areas they service. Decisions to fund 'outside' organisations were seen as wasteful and both a duplication and devaluation of already existing service provision.

Evaluating programs

Overall organisations felt pressured to continually justify their funding in terms of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). One stakeholder advised on the importance of monitoring the success of programs on other aspects aside from KPIs. In general, it was felt that funding bodies and government need to be patient when monitoring the success of programs, especially as 'things take time in communities', particularly if long term effects are desired. Another stakeholder "dreams about a funding stream without rules and regulations" that enables innovative approaches to be used – for example, being able to work with young people if they approach the organisation with an idea to make a film on youth suicide.

Community consultation and community capacity building needed

Central to most feedback was the need for real and effective community consultation during the planning and roll out of youth diversion strategies and communication development across the CDR and East Kimberley.

Stakeholders felt that the most successful outcomes are achieved when people at the community level are running programs and developing communications, with help and support from local organisations and in some cases, from government.

Further, it was felt that youth diversion strategies should be administered by organisations that are founded on principles of community development, and have clear and ongoing relationships with their clients. In most cases where these organisations existed their boards were headed by local Indigenous people from the serviced communities. These boards play a vital role in setting the policy direction of the organisations. Additionally, most organisations felt that having Indigenous workers was critical to the successful and long term implementation of programs. In Kununurra it was suggested by several stakeholders that resources should be put into sourcing "Aboriginal workers". Furthermore, it was suggested by several organisations that community members were often expected to assist in the service of youth diversion programs without being paid. Employing local community members, where appropriate, should be encouraged as it increases community ownership over programs and does not rely on community volunteers. It is also critical that local community workers are mentored, and provided with the skills and knowledge to potentially run and coordinate programs in the future.

Example: Mt Theo

Mt Theo provided several examples of effective community capacity building. One approach is the youth leadership program, and within this, youth have been identified and invited to join the Mt Theo committee (which originally included elders only). There are 15 young people on a committee of 23. Mt Theo also has a formal mentor program, where local young people mentor at-risk youth. This was based on informal relationships, but this has been formalised, and young people "look forward to becoming a mentor", as this approach is now embedded in the culture. It was noted however that this aspect of community development takes time, and that communities need to make allowances for this approach to build over time. Mt Theo also discussed the importance of offering flexibility when employing local staff or working with volunteers, as they often have 2-3 part-time workers to cover one role. This also has the added benefit of providing employment for a greater number of local community members, which is great for self-esteem. There are also youth volunteers ("Jaru trainees"), and at the time of the research there were 97 young trainees.

Skills capacity is an important aspect of this program, and it has been successful in achieving employment outcomes for several trainees. For example, last year 19 Jaru volunteers went into employment with the school, childcare, pool and Mt Theo itself.

It is clear that where community capacity building and community consultation have not occurred, programs struggle and their benefits remain confined to short term improvements. In Kununurra one stakeholder reported that many programs are "not reaching out to the grass roots level". The reason is "a lack of partnerships with local Indigenous people". Whilst there are groups that receive funding for youth services, many of them do not know how to "communicate with the local Indigenous groups".

Another stakeholder in Kununurra reported that "many groups are being funded" for Indigenous projects, but they are "headed by non-Indigenous people". There were concerns that these non-Indigenous people are not from the community, are well paid, and "consult very little" (if at all) with the local Indigenous community.

Other reports were given about government workers who were "too scared to venture into Aboriginal communities". Further it was re-iterated on several occasions that a direct line needs to exist from the source of resources to communities so "non-Indigenous bureaucrats don't design jobs for themselves or other white fellas".

The common theme was that programs need to be conducted in partnership with local Aboriginal organisations and communities. There was an appreciation that the "government has the expertise and resources", and that this needs to be matched with the "local groups" that have the knowledge and "community contacts", and the ability to deliver messages out to the community.

Example: Youth Diversion Program

Funding of $11,000 was provided for a youth diversion program consisting of a sports engagement activity, and the aim was to reach 60 young people in the local area. Aboriginal Corporations reported that this program only reached 12 (non-Indigenous) young people. The reason for this lack of success was put down to a lack of consultation with the Indigenous community and a lack of consideration of the community context. For example, the implementation of this program required young people's parents to sign indemnity forms, and to attend the program young people needed to phone and book. One community member cited "if the parents can't read and the kids don't have a phone" then it is very unlikely that they will attend. One young Indigenous boy included in the research felt that the program was for the non-Indigenous youth only. Even though the program was designed with the whole Indigenous and non-Indigenous community in mind, a lack of engagement with the Indigenous community meant that the program did not access Indigenous youth.

Significant need for infrastructure 'on the ground'

Currently there are several issues facing communities which are preventing youth diversion strategies from being as effective as they could be. This includes a severe lack of basic resources in communities including a lack of housing for community members, lack of housing for workers, lack of youth facilities, lack of secondary education facilities and a lack of transport. For youth diversion programs to even scratch the surface these structural issues need to be addressed simultaneously.

  • Housing for community members
    Across the CDR and East Kimberley there is a housing crisis. Overcrowding, with up to 30 or more people living in a three bedroom house, compounds social issues, felt most heavily by children and young people.

    In Kununurra one stakeholder reported that overcrowding forces children to roam the streets because they are more likely to be the subject of abuse in an overcrowded house. These children are "highly traumatised" and may "try to avoid the situation" of abuse at home, thus they will stay out on the streets late at night.

    In Kununurra this problem has been further compounded by an influx of 'drinkers' from surrounding communities where alcohol restrictions have been implemented - "overcrowding is due to the dry community government policy that has not thought of the impact on its neighbouring Kununurra Indigenous people".
  • Housing for workers
    Similar to issues facing community members, organisations have also reported a lack of housing for workers in communities.

    In Kununurra difficulties in attracting staff to youth service positions stems from the endemic problem of a lack of housing. In Kununurra they cannot find staff to fill positions as rent for a three bedroom house is currently set at $750 per week. In Halls Creek one stakeholder noted that they have funding for additional youth workers, but these positions cannot be filled because there is no appropriate housing in the community.

    In the CDR many reports came through highlighting the lack of suitable housing for potential youth workers in communities. One organisation reported that in some communities there have been wages for years for youth worker positions but no one to fill the positions due to a lack of suitable housing. They also reported that sometimes in these cases jobs can be allocated to inappropriate workers ("such as the storekeeper's nephew") as doubling up in existing accommodation solves the housing issue.

    Despite the Petrol Sniffing Strategy in the CDR and a promise of additional housing for youth workers, communities reported very little change in infrastructure. One organisation put this down to the government's recent focus on 'Hub communities', a model which they feel may exclude many communities as infrastructure will be built in these 'regional centres' and not "out bush" in more remote communities. Another organisation that works with a regional community and other remote communities is very concerned that ongoing funding for these remote communities will not be available, and therefore service delivery will cease.
  • Facilities
    Similar to housing issues, organisations reported a general lack of youth facilities in communities. For example, in Kununurra it was noted that there are limited facilities, even though a local youth centre had recently been built. The building was perceived to be 'uninviting' and 'sterile', and it also has no toilet facilities, which considerably limits the scope of activities that can be run from this facility.

    Further, there are limited secondary school options in most communities, and several stakeholders noted that for the 12 -13 age group, there are no training opportunities and "they are basically walking around with nothing to do". This lack of opportunity is exacerbated when there are limited facilities and programs in remote communities that these young people can access. Within this, stakeholders also highlighted the need for services such as a drop-in service in the evenings, offering young people a safe place to "hang out" in the evenings, and shelters to provide safe accommodation for young people at night. For example, in one community it was noted that young people sometimes sleep in the recreation hall on mattresses, whereas there is a 'sobering up shelter' in the community with 24 beds, and often only two or three of these beds are used in the evenings. There have been requests to split the shelter so that it could also provide a safe place for young people.

Example: Youth facilities

An example of a proposed youth facility was raised in the Youth Provider Network Meeting in Kununurra. Stakeholders talked about setting up "the lounge" for young people, so that youth have a place of their own. Part of this discussion also covered keeping control in the hands of the organisers to ensure "the kids don't get out of hand and make the experience unpleasant for others". The plan for "the lounge" is to "have all sorts of activities like Wii, air hockey" and many other activities available for young people. As well, computers will be available, so it can act like an "admin centre/ IT hub" with a youth bus that is sorely needed. One suggestion was to have a "feed for the kids at night" so that they are not on the street and "not hungry".

  • Transport services
    According to one organisation servicing the CDR, one of the biggest issues facing communities is a lack of transport. This issue is further compounded as there are limited or in some cases no services available in communities. People in need often do not have service options in their community, and are expected to travel to a regional centre to access relevant services. Clearly if there is no transport, access to these services is limited.

Example: Transport and youth diversion programs

The Gap youth drop-in centre incorporate transport into their service. This organisation does not service remote communities, as many of the clients come from the town camps in and around Alice Springs. An important part of attracting clients is providing safe and reliable transport from the service at night. This service offers a youth diversion program from 5 - 10pm every night where young people are able to access their facilities (including their new internet café). They reach about 20-40 young people and at 10pm when the drop-in centre closes the young people are offered transport back home. This transport is an important part of the success of the program, and without it they believe that there would be fewer clients.

As a contrasting example, one community organisation reported difficulties in accessing existing transport services. Due to the changed structure of the Shires, this organisation had issues accessing sport and recreation vehicles to attend sports weekends. They found that there is inconsistency with Shire workers in that some approve their requests for vehicle use whilst others refuse. Sports weekends are an important youth diversion strategy with a strong 'no grog or drugs' policy associated with training in the lead up to games. Difficulties accessing transport meant that communities often missed out on attending these weekends. Having transport readily available would mean that communities could attend more sporting events and benefit from youth participating in healthy and sober environments.

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Attachment 2 - Implications for Program Delivery 

Supply Reduction Strategies

The research clearly indicates that supply reduction strategies have been very effective, and that efforts need to continue in this area. Opportunities include:

  • Working closely with retailers to assist in the continued roll out of Opal fuel across the CDR and East Kimberly Region
  • Working closely with retailers to manage the responsible sale of products that could be used for VSA
  • Expanding the'code of conduct' implemented by Alice Springs' retailers based on the'no school, no service' policy, where young people can be refused service during school hours if they are not accompanied by a responsible adult or have a school leave pass.

Youth Diversion Programs

Significant resources have been dedicated to youth diversion, and the research highlights the importance of this strategy for youth generally, and at-risk youth in particular. There is a need for greater resources to be dedicated to youth diversion. Based on the research findings, youth diversion programs need to:

  • Be developed in conjunction with community members and affected groups
  • Offer a range of programs designed to re-engage young people with education
  • Provide creative programs that deliver key messages on harm minimisation (where appropriate) and healthy lifestyle messages in a subtle and non-lecturing way.

The research identified a large number of examples of youth diversion programs that are operating, as well as several opportunities. Some of these include:

  • Having a drop-in centre/safe space for young people. This also provides an opportunity to offer an IT hub, and to provide meals (if relevant) and transport
  • Running regular girls/boys groups
  • Developing a youth leadership group or reference group
  • Providing music programs, such as drumming workshops, hip hop, rap, etc. One example is the program offered by Music Outback in remote communities in the NT. This is organised through schools and is funded by the Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations. Musicians conduct workshops with students over a week, with an emphasis on developing music in-language. For example, the remote schools of Ti Tree and Utopia communities have released their own CD's as a continuing development of their work with Music Outback. Song books have been created for these songs as well, creating culturally relevant literacy resources
  • Where swimming pools are available, these provide opportunities for youth diversion programs (such as swimming squads), and other programs encouraging school attendance. In Halls Creek, for example, the youth workers and pool manager work together to develop programs. It should be noted that in Yuendumu Mt Theo manage the pool, but this is a considerable challenge as the original funding covered the building of the pool, but not ongoing management and maintenance. This is a significant issue that threatens the continued operation of the pool
  • Sport - especially the opportunity to attend sporting carnivals, was a significant area of interest for young people.
  • New media was also mentioned, especially with regards to video production and radio production. This offers considerable opportunities, especially as use of many locally based media options (such as local radio) is very high. Mt Theo provided examples of video productions they had conducted in communities on a range of health promotion areas, including healthy eating.
  • Other activities mentioned included discos, movie nights, cooking, photography, mask making, circus skills, local skills development (for example saddle making and tanning of camel and kangaroo in Docker River), and BMX bikes/rip sticks/skateboarding.

Enhancing Infrastructure

There are significant gaps in infrastructure for youth diversion in remote communities. The research highlighted several priorities:

  • Funding safe and sustainable housing for families in communities
  • Funding safe and appropriate housing for youth workers in communities
  • Developing facilities in communities that can aid in the delivery of youth services such as sport and recreation facilities
  • Improving access to transport.

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Content Updated: 31 May 2012