Editor's note: This is the third of a three-part series on drugs, alcohol and youth on the Sunshine Coast.
Last week we asked what's missing in our support for youth with alcohol and drug problems and what can we as a community do.
The Sunshine Coast youth alcohol and drug community response strategy clearly tells us what's missing in our approach to this regional problem. This strategy was developed with the assistance of 171 youth and adults who could speak directly to the challenges facing our community around this issue. Coordination: The first part of the three pronged approach recommended in the community response strategy (coordination, prevention and response) is well underway.
The action sub-committee of the Youth Awareness Committee is meeting regularly and has begun to lobby and advocate for sustainable funding to support our Sunshine Coast youth with alcohol and drug problems.
Prevention: The key areas of an effective prevention program are education (youth and adult focused); place (adult supervised, youth friendly places in each community); increased sense of connection and belonging; activities (alternatives to street activities); and support for parents.
Some of the gaps in these key areas are being filled by our five Community Schools, the Sunshine Coast Community Services Society, Sunshine Coast RCMP and the Sunshine Coast Regional District parks and recreation department. However, the gaps in the prevention area are glaring and obvious. We lack a regional, coordinated, youth alcohol and drug prevention program. As one of the youth involved in the report said: educate adults so kids can receive calm and informed messages.
What's needed to fill this gap is sustainable funding for a prevention program based on sound harm reduction principles.
For prevention programs to be regional and effective, they need a paid coordinator. Other communities, for example Powell River and Squamish, have these prevention programs. The funding comes from the Mental Health Services department of the North Shore/Coast Garibaldi Health Services.
Response: One of the youth interviewed for the report poignantly stated the need for a Sunshine Coast response strategy: "Someone on drugs often has a lot of personal problems. Sometimes it feels like nobody cares so they may as well not care about themselves. What a community can do is care about a person in their time of difficulty, show them they aren't alone."
At present there are no addiction services on the Sunshine Coast that focus on the unique challenges of youth with drug and alcohol problems. We know from research that dollars spent on the early onset of addiction can save considerable health dollars down the road. When asked about a youth addictions counsellor, Paul Charon of Mental Health and Addiction services said, "The needs of youth struggling with addiction problems on the Sunshine Coast are well documented. When funding was transferred to health authorities across the province, we received funding to support 1.5 professional therapists. We made a conscious decision to focus our clinical services on the outpatient counseling needs of the adult population. To do otherwise would have meant that we [would] have under-resourced not only adolescents but also adults."
As parents and caring community members, we can speak up and question the priorities and funding levels of our local health resources. The community response strategy states that the hiring of at least one youth addictions counsellor is a priority. As a community we cannot afford to drag our feet any longer. We need these services and places for youth now. The cost of not supporting or valuing our youth is too high. Over the next few months, as the Youth Action Committee continues its work, we will share with you the progress being made toward implementing a strategy to support and value our Sunshine Coast youth.