Families and Friends for Drug Law Reform

committed to preventing tragedy that arises from illicit drug use

Tuggeranong Community Services

Maureen Cane

Kerrie Tucker: The first speaker is Maureen Cane. Maureen is the Chief Executive Officer of the Tuggeranong Community Services and she was formerly Executive Officer of Assisting Drug Dependents Incorporated. Sheís worked in the community sector for the past four years and formerly worked in the federal and ACT public service. Thank you Maureen.

Maureen Cane: Thank you very much for your welcome, Kerrie, and for the opportunity to participate in this forum tonight. Iím just going to say something very brief about the Tuggeranong Community Service just to put some of the remarks into a little bit of context. Tuggeranong Community Service is a community based organisation so weíre a not for profit organisation and we are managed by a voluntary board of management. We operate in some 18 sites across the Tuggeranong Valley and so we service about a third of the population of the ACT. We estimate we have a client contact rate of about 140,000 every year and we are a major employer in the Valley. We have over 200 people on our payroll and, in fact, a large volunteer army as well of some 80 people.

One of our main claims to fame, I suppose, that Iíll also mention at the end is that we also operate the largest community-based family day care program in Australia. We have over 1,400 children in care through that program with over 240 carers. If you want a bit more information about Tuggeranong Community Service I have some information with me tonight. Thatís just to give you some idea of the range of things we do, the amount of things we do.

It is certainly true that the misuse of drugs whether theyíre legal or illegal does impact on all the aspects of our services or is an element we take into account in service delivery. And Iíll illustrate this by making some brief references to our programs.

Starting from the very young going through to people more towards my end of the spectrum.

With respect to the very young, our family day care scheme works very closely with two halfway houses in Tuggeranong who offer rehabilitation facilities to people who are seeking to get out of the drug scene. Our family day care program helps to place the children of those people who are in rehabilitation with carers who then can look after them through the day. You may know that the Federal Governmentís child care benefit guidelines state that the first priority to obtain care under the family day care program are, in fact, children at risk. So the children who we assist to place in the family day care program do, of course, come in that category. Itís actually an aspect of the program that works very well and we have very good relationships with the halfway houses in that regard.

One aspect, however, of the program that worries people sometimes Ė thatís the carers, the ones looking after the children (this is not necessarily, by the way, the folks who are just in the halfway houses) Ė is that sometimes the people who come to pick up the children at the end of the day Ė who are authorised to pick them up Ė arrive under the influence whether thatís of alcohol or drugs. And that does put us in a very difficult position sometimes. We seek to manage those situations but Iíll be frank with you, and it may be something perhaps you might wish to comment on, that we find difficult because these people are authorised by the parents to pick the children up and yet we have duty of care towards the children. Itís a difficult issue.

Moving on then quickly to teenagers. We run, among other things, the Tuggeranong Youth Resource Centre which is near the bus interchange. We average about 150 participants a week in a whole range of programs including the drop in centre, band nights, Tuggeranong Valley youth choir, anger management, self development courses, arts and crafts and on it goes. And a very good program for young people with a mental illness. Our staff have observed a steady increase in recent times in the use of marijuana in both new and regular participants in our youth programs. And weíre talking here of an age range between, say, 13 to 16 years of age. In the last few months our staff have referred 11 young people to the Drug Referral and Information Service here in Civic [now called "Directionsí] for advice and counselling.

Of particular concern to our staff is that there are some participants who undergo a program at the youth centre which is actually run by the Education Department. Itís called the High School Student Support Program. These are for students who simply cannot function appropriately in the school setting. And this is a very good program that the Education Department run out of the Youth Centre. However, our staff note that currently the five participants Ė and thatís a full programís worth Ė the five participants are daily smokers of marijuana and there is also some experimentation among them with heroin. It is of particular concern because they are all on various medications. And so there are dual diagnosis issues there because these folks generally have some learning disabilities which are being addressed through medication and so there is a concern as to whether one thing is really cancelling out the other.

Our staff report that the most prevalent mix of substances used by our clients among the teenage group is a mix of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana and speed. And as you know that can be a very potent mix for young people and in some individuals can trigger a psychotic episode.

The impacts of this usage on our youth service include that we have to spend a fair amount of time doing "counselling". I suppose thatís providing advice and referral on drug dependence issues, encouraging and motivating young people to seek detoxification, mediating substance related disputes and sometimes fights. And then, of course, we seek to refer young people to specialist services.

Another interesting point is that the staff note that in talking to young people it appears that a number of parents are accepting of under age substance use which is not, in our experience, intravenous.

So moving on to parenting. We run some behavioural guidance and some family support programs through which we come into contact with many families whose lives are touched by the misuse of substances. Thatís either because of the parentsí use or because of the childrenís use. Not surprisingly we have found in some cases that behavioural problems in children are linked to the substance use or misuse of their parents who we find occasionally are both incoherent, distracted or just plain not there when the staff go to make home visits. Depending on the seriousness of the situation and the willingness of the clients involved we make referrals to specialist organisations like the Drug and Alcohol Referral Service or to Family Services, of course, as appropriate.

And finally the elderly. We run a series of respite and friendship groups for older people and a transport program which is based on volunteer labour. What we have found with many of our elderly clients is that they doctor shop and chemist shop. And there appears to be some lack of follow up and monitoring of prescription use. Sometimes prescriptions are renewed without the doctor examining the client and sometimes prescriptions are given to relatives. Now, of course, there will be occasions we can all understand when doing that will make a good deal of sense. But again, our observations have been over a period of time and it seems to be quite prevalent and that again is a source of concern.

We also find in talking with older clients that if they forget to take their medication one day they think theyíd better take twice as much medication the next day to make up for it. So again there appears to be a level of ignorance out there which, again perhaps, we should think in terms of concern especially as our population is aging.

So you can see from these very brief remarks that substance use and misuse certainly does have an impact across the whole range of services that are provided by community services in the ACT, as I said, from the very young, through the middlings, through to parents and through to the very old. Thank you for the opportunity to make these few comments.