What can we do for the young people impacted by drug testing welfare recipients?
The federal budget. If you’re like me, you often see those words and feel the weight of politics. I encourage you to keep reading because the politics we’re talking about here shouldn’t be our primary focus in relation to this issue.
The release of the latest federal budget definitely started a few fires (as always, really). A fire sparking lots of attention was the proposed approach to increase employment amongst welfare recipients. Random drug testing welfare recipients to encourage more people into employment. That’s the goal. Though for many of us within the alcohol and other drug sector or related agencies and organisations, we have concerns about this approach. If you’ve been hiding under a turtle shell lately, you can pop your head out and check out some of the pros and cons being discussed here.
At Encounter Youth, we understand young people are faced with a myriad of diverse issues and we believe prevention is essential to reduce the harms to young people. We continue to execute prevention strategies through our programs. This includes our Party Safe Education™ in schools and communities to encourage young people, parents and members of the community to make positive choices about alcohol and other drug use.
Unfortunately, drug testing welfare recipients continues to address drug use once it becomes a problem rather than working to prevent it. Pathways to treatment are of course essential, however the lack of attention to prevention is concerning. Each year, Encounter Youth and our Green Team volunteers meet young people in unique social settings and understand the complex social, mental and emotional challenges they face, including those exposed to drug use. Whether the young person is using or an associated family member or friend is, increasing the financial stress with other disadvantages in existence could result in further dysfunction in the life of the young person.
The important thing is what we do with this announcement. Despite what will eventuate from this proposed strategy, there are vulnerable young people in schools and local communities that need our support. Many young people face serious barriers to living a ‘normal’ life. How can we support them whether drug testing welfare recipients is a process implemented or not?
Supporting Vulnerable Young People
How do we support vulnerable young people in schools and the local community who are impacted by drug testing welfare recipients?
Young people in families receiving welfare are likely to have reduced accessibility to what is expected to be ‘normal’ for a young person eg. accessibility to housing, living with/without family, food, schooling and school supplies, and health services. As a teacher myself, I understand the demands are greater than ever and managing the complex needs of students is time intensive. So wouldn’t it be great if students could be empowered to engage with organisations who ‘fill the gap’ for people in need. As a starting point, schools across the country engage in School Breakfast Programs. Fortunately, selected Victorian schools have access to Foodbank through a new funding partnership with the Department of Education & Training Victoria and the State Government. Various schools organise programs such as this into allocated Pastoral Care time or other subjects such as Health or Mathematics.
Though, what do the young people feel they need? Unfortunately, little research specifically asks young people of their experiences with parents, family or guardians using drugs. However, the research does tell us they believe more appropriate support would be possible if their voice was listened to. In a supportive environment where young people are not fearful of ‘statutory intervention,’ young people were able to communicate significant barriers, including preventing them from staying in the school system (Moore et al 2010). Young people commented that they had to leave school due to the demands at home. They often had no time to complete work due to caring for parents and siblings. Even if they had time, they often did not have the resources available, such as a computer, to complete homework (Moore et al 2010). They also said not meeting academic outcomes also affected them socially, as this disconnected them from friendship groups. Friends were often their only outlet and sense of normality in their life. We can see very soon that financial stress is a compounding problem. Fortunately, the school environment provides the unique opportunity to listen to these young people and learn how we can best support them.
As professionals working with young people, specifically in the school setting, we can also support young people’s identity to not be defined by drug use in their family. Even the conversations amongst staff make a difference. Good mental health practice is to separate the condition from the person. The same applies to how we talk about young people and how they perceive themselves. Sally has a parent who is experiencing addiction. Sally may say ‘my Mum is a pot head.’ We have an opportunity to speak life and must acknowledge the power of words in the conversations we have with young people, in the classroom and also behind the scenes.
Lastly, we can encourage young people to use their voice. Age should be no barrier to young people having a say on what matters to them and especially how political decisions such as drug testing welfare recipients will impact their lives. In our Party Safe Education™ seminars, we provide young people and parents the opportunity for their voice to be heard and this guides our preventative education into the future. Where possible, teachers can be encouraging their students to engage with their local politicians and other services about issues such as drug testing welfare recipients.