It's been a while since I wrote my last blog here at Teen ChallengeTasmania and much has happened since then. Quite a lot of people that know me, know just how passionate I am about young people achieving the life they are intended to live, not necessarily the one that circumstances (often the consequences of someone else choices) are dishing out to them right now.
I first truly became ignited in my sense of justice for young people, when I actually started engaging with them and asking questions and it wasn't that long ago.
You see I've never really considered myself a "kid person". My career path was so far removed from kids, that they never even registered on the radar for me. In fact, I can remember quite vividly (as I'm sure my mum and dad would too) standing up (literally) at the dinner table at 13yo declaring I would never have children, I might get married, but that wasn't really a necessity, but my life was going to be about making a name for myself, my own business, my own wealth etc.
My poor parents. Dad, understandably was moved by his eldest daughters declaration and told me just as passionately, that it was that attitude of young people today, that they could just do whatever they want without thinking of anyone else that would affect the progression of this country. He explained I had an obligation to produce at least two children to replace that of myself and my husband in the population and better yet increase by an extra one or two. That way our nation would grow and prosper.
Needless to say, the determination of that 13yo, maybe stubbornness too and I did exactly what I wanted and lived the life I wanted and kids were not a part of it.....sadly.
I say sadly, because when I first started to get curious of kids, particularly kids that were struggling, I found a purpose in my life that I never had before. Yep, I achieved the business, the comfortable wealth, the material possessions but there was no real purpose. Meaning, yes, I discovered that later in life too and that was finding my faith (that's another story for another day) but purpose? That eluded me.
That is until the day I commenced taking mock interviews with a group of young people trying to make something of their lives. I started asking questions and probing the kids as to what had they achieved, that they never thought they could....sometimes we aren't prepared for the answers we receive.
Fortunately my life skills had taught me to remain expressionless in challenging circumstances, because what I heard next completely blew my middle class mind and its sense of comfort and that all was pretty ok in my suburbs.
One young girls highest achievement was getting herself out of ward 1e (mental health unit) and was trying to get an apprenticeship to get away from the home where she was being abused, the young man that had been the sole carer of his mum since he was 13 and now at 21 was trying to get an apprenticeship to support his 12 month old son and girlfriend, to not have the life he did.
They didn't end there, I was told about a young girl living in our Tasmanian suburbs that had to go home and sleep in the dog kennel because that was the safest place for her due to the sex predator her mum had chosen to bring into her home.
Suddenly, all was not ok in my immediate world, the blinkers had came off to what was actually a reality in our very own suburbs, our own back yards, if we actually care enough to look. We don't have to look overseas for the need, it's right here at home.
Not long after this experience, we began our journey with our Connections Mentoring program to start by helping some of these kids. By placing a constant, positive adult in their lives to help them journey to make solid choices, opening up new horizons of thought processes. To discover that amazing, gifted, unique individual in each of them, and futures not defined by the circumstances they have to endure today. To help them get "Life Ready"
I'm thankful to say other like minded people come alongside and became mentors and make a difference in the lives of these precious young people every day. Walking beside them and building their level of resilience each time they hang out with them, building fences.
The journey doesn't end there. The further we moved with Teen Challenge, the more we were exposed to another level of insidious reality in our suburbs. The drug dealers that prey on our children, with Fagan like qualities, they coax them in and trap them in addiction hell before they or their families realise what's going on.
This is very real in our suburbs, irrespective of what suburb it is in Tasmania. Dealers have been expanding their reach to our most vulnerable, our kids and think nothing of the effects or impacts on their lives or that of their families.
Let me share just one story with you, a real Tasmanian story, but no real names used for obvious reasons:
John* was twelve years old when he first came onto our radar and of other services trying to help him and his family. John had been arrested for stealing, possession of an illicit substance and drug paraphernalia, he was also addicted to ICE.
John's parents had separated and really tried to do the best for him and his siblings, there wasn't anything he was lacking in the way of physical needs and material things. His hurt was deeper. At such a pivotal developmental stage, his world had turned upside down and he was struggling to find his identity, place and anchor in society.
He had this mate Greg* that he gravitated to and Greg seemed to "get" him. Even better Greg's parents appeared really cool, they let Greg come and go as he liked, school wasn't really a priority and he could have whoever he wanted over. John was welcome whenever he wanted to come over. John often told his mum or dad he was going to the other parents house and as they didn't live far from each other, that was fine. They had no idea he often didn't get to their respective houses, instead he stopped off at Greg's.
What they also didn't know was Greg's parents, the cool ones, well they were drug dealers and they were using their own kids to target young people. Their instructions to their kids was to bring home kids that weren't doing really well, like kids that were being bullied, getting in trouble, didn't have any friends or maybe having troubles in life. like their parents had broken up.....like John.
It wasn't long before Greg passed John a joint (cannabis) and said have some of this, it'll make you feel better. I don't really know what went through John's mind at that time, maybe he was a bit nervous, maybe he actually didn't want it, then maybe he wanted to fit in and join in the "fun" but one thing I do know is that first joint, was his first hit and what he didn't know then was that joint had been laced with ICE.
ICE for most users when they first try, no point hiding it, is like every pleasure centre going off at once, every feel good hormone you have in your brain is released and you feel amazing, so incredibly amazing, out of this world amazing - but likewise it's also the reason it is so addictive.
That first time, is the highest high and you will forever be chasing that same high and never achieve it again. Each time you use to overcome the "down" the "crash" afterwards, the depression, the anxiety, the sadness, the pain, like you've never experienced in your life, you'll never reach it again.
That first time could very easily have you hooked, addicted....that was John, 12 yo, first time unwittingly taking ICE and hopelessly addicted.
Hooked and needing more, Greg supplied more, no point hiding it now, its ICE pure and simple and for a short time its free! Didn't take long and then the debts called in....John you're using too much, you've got to pay your way, here's how much you owe us. That bill, well that's usually thousands, for this young man it was $10K! Addicted, frightened, unable to tell his parents, trying to stay in with the group, these people that "get" him, how is a 12yo going to come up with $10K?
That's where the shopping list comes in...Gregs parents....the cool ones, no worries John, here's a way you can pay it off. Here's a list of items you can get for us, steal for us, we'll sell them and pay off your debt....easy.
Problem is John's addicted, he's still using and getting his gear from....you guessed it, these dealers, so the debt never ends, in fact it gets higher and the list gets higher. It starts to include things like motor vehicles, entering rival drug houses to steal drugs, cash, anything of value, becoming "enforcers" collectors of debt. Young kids being supplied weapons, taken to houses and sent in to get debts, rob shops whilst the adults wait outside, down the street. You can bet your life if things get heavy they won't be sticking around, kids like John, they're on their own, they are expendable and if they get caught? They're just kids what's the worst the law is going to do to them? or worse get killed if something goes wrong. No worries that's unfortunate, but there's another kid already being groomed ready to step in.
Think this is isolated? Think again, this same scenario comes up time and time again, different faces but the same story. It's not isolated to kids from low socio-economic areas either. Sadly there's many that think having money is going to provide protection from this mode of operation...wrong.
What better target for a dealer like this, than kids from wealthy families, people with expendable incomes that if the pressure is applied would and do have the means to "pay someone off". Sad part is the kids are hooked, their source of supply is these people, the dealers, The dealers that "get them", they are lost to you, at least for now, until some consequence happens that wakes, the John's of this world up to see they are being taken advantage of, that they are being ripped off here.
It's a source of thinking that isolates us from seeing what is happening around us, perhaps we don't want to see, the blinkers give us a sense of safety and security. I saw a level of this unfortunately in comments on social media following a front page article in a local newspaper when I spoke of what is happening with young kids just like John in our suburbs.
Perhaps a little regretably, the photo used above the headline grabs of the main news, including ours, showed kids from a private school pertaining to a completely different purpose. The backlash to the paper was immediate in social media, the gist of the comments where "poor show......these private school kids wouldn't be using ICE, its other suburbs and kids without means that do this sort of thing". Sorry to say it is your kids too, dealers, drugs and the resulting addiction have no social boundaries, money or social standing won't protect you.
Education, understanding, awareness and a whole lot of resilience will be a big start though.
That's where we took our next stand and developed in collaboration with the Dalgarno Institute, the #NotEvenOnce Projects. #NotEvenOnce is far more than a "Say No to Drugs" message. We wanted to reach kids, parents, teachers, community members and educate them on what substances such as ICE do to the brains and bodies and we use current scientific and medical data to do so. But more than that we want to open peoples eyes to the realities of what is happening around them to remove the blinkers, to look out for predators such as this and they may even come in the shape of someone your own age, like Greg.
Even more importantly let's educate on causation issues, the root causes that can lead to vulnerability in the first place. Like John, his parents marriage breakdown sent him in a spin and frankly his parents with everything they were dealing with, genuinely thought they were doing the best they could, perhaps they were - where's the manual that comes with a marriage breakup and helping your kids too?
Life is going to throw tough stuff at us all, that's what life does. It's not all roses, sometimes it bites badly. Understanding that there are tools available to us, like talking about what's going on (in fact talk therapies are still the most effective method) and defeating the stigma around airing our emotions, especially for young men. It's so vital in enabling our young people (and lets face it the not so young too) to be building resilience. It's resilience that will aid us, if the Greg's of this world come to offer us something to make us "feel better" we know there's a far more effective way and we want no part of what he's offering no matter how its packaged.
#NotEvenOnce is proving extremely effective and with new data coming out everyday, like the latest research from SA Universities, School of Pharmacy and Medical Sciences, Dr Gabrielle Todd , showing Parkinson's like damage to the brains of young people using ICE fewer than 5 times, it's important to keep our kids and communities informed.
With medical and scientific evidence showing any introduction of drugs legal or otherwise on the developing brain has impact, we truly need to fight for our young people and their future potential.
So far evaluation results are showing of those kids indicating likely use of illicit drugs prior to a seminar 68% are turning positively away from that decision post seminar and in Tasmania last year we saw 44.5% actually choose abstinence from illicit drugs post seminar. #NotEvenOnce is so much more than just a "Say No to Drugs" campaign it addresses so much more. We can't describe the impact better than a teacher at a school we delivered to last year stated:
"NotEvenOnce is, by far, the most powerful presentation I have seen in schools as far as educating students about the dangers of drugs and alcohol. It combines scientific data (what drugs do to young brains/bodies) and the personal experiences of the staff of Teen Challenge in working with young people struggling from drug and alcohol problems. The presentation engages the kids and gets the message across powerfully and effectively. Having a former drug addict from Northern Tasmania stand in front of our Grade 9/10s telling them about the decisions they made and the severe consequences of it really struck a chord with our young people and brought some of them to tears. All the theory our students had learned in class about the dangers of drugs now has a heartbreaking face and a personal story to it. NotEvenOnce also gives solid strategies to students that will help combat the pressure or need to experiment with drugs. If every student can hear this presentation, I have no doubt that there will be young lives in our state that are positively impacted and changed. This is an absolute must for every High School's Health program."
So back to where it all began, finding a real purpose, asking questions of kids, actually being interested and passionate about who they can be. I'm sure each of you that reads this knows a young person - I challenge you to have a conversation with them - maybe asking them what's something they've achieved they never thought they could. Remember you may not be prepared for the answer, be ready for the blinkers to come off - welcome to the awesome potential of our future.....our kids. Each one unique and precious, each one worth fighting for and each one worth building resilience within, that #NotEvenOnce is actually a valid choice.
Visit our website www.teenchallengetasmania.org
If you would like information on bringing #NotEvenOnce to your school, sporting club or community please get in touch with the author on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0412 300 850. If you know of someone needing help please do not hesitate to contact us or speak to any number of service providers in Tasmania.
If you would like to assist financially, to expand the reach of this valuable work with our next generation through Teen Challenge Tasmania's programs - Connections Mentoring & #NotEvenOnce Projects please click on the Donate button below and mention NEO Blog in the reference.