Keeping school leavers safe

‘Schoolies’ events are often associated with risky drinking among young people. But the Surf Coast Shire community in Victoria has managed to develop a school leavers event that has reduced alcohol-related harm – described in this case study.

What’s the issue?

The Surf Coast in Victoria is a desirable location for school leavers, with the small towns of Lorne and Torquay in particular receiving a large influx of young visitors when Year 12 students finish their schooling each year. Anecdotal reports of partying with excessive alcohol and illicit drug experimentation, and associated risk-taking, vandalism and violence, caused concern in the community and some negative reactions towards school leavers.

And the solution?

Council, service providers and the community came together to create the School Leavers Working Group, which is a subgroup of the Surf Coast’s Community Safety Group. It focuses on minimising harm to residents and school leavers during the week-long school leavers period. Surf Coast Shire Council leads the group, with key partners being Victoria Police and the Youth Support and Advocacy Service (YSAS). Other stakeholders include local hotels, liquor outlets and accommodation providers, and volunteers from youth support networks Red Frogs and Student Life. This coordinated, multifaceted response has been vital to the success of the project.

The working group has created a ‘Good times, great breaks’ program on the Surf Coast that focuses on being chilled out, fun and safe. School leavers are required to register to access services and activities. They pay a fee that helps offsets the costs. They receive a wristband that entitles them to a free shuttle bus and entry into a range of activities. The bus is an important initiative to ensure school leavers can safely return to their accommodation.

A key initiative of the group is having YSAS drug and alcohol support service workers on the street from 8pm to 4am during the school leavers period, with four workers in each town, travelling in pairs. A government grant of $30,000 funds this service.

Another important part of the event is the Student Life and Red Frogs volunteers, who provide positive engagement through a range of activities. They visit the school leavers in their accommodation and cook pancakes, organise sporting activities, offer support at chillout areas, drive the shuttle bus and generally get to know the school leavers. More than 100 Red Frogs and Student Life volunteers deliver this program of activities, which are totally drug and alcohol free.

Support is also offered through a website, Facebook page and text message service where positive messages about safety and chilled-out activities on the coast are circulated to registered school leavers. The Facebook page is also used by residents who want to stay up to date with the latest information about the event. A business card is also provided in the school leavers registration pack, with YSAS contact details, the Red Frogs hotline number and details of various other helplines and support services.

What’s been the impact?

Police data indicates a decline in assaults and other reported crimes during the school leavers period on the Surf Coast since the program began. Media coverage of the period is also now less negative. Incentives for school leavers to register for the event seem to be working, with registrations increasing. School leavers recognise the value of a wristband and the entitlements that go with it, such as the alcohol-free activities and events. Collaboration between the key stakeholders in the community continues to be strong, with new initiatives and improvements to the event launched each year.

Adapted from: Prevention Research: Preventing alcohol and drug problems in your community, Australian Drug Foundation, June 2014.