Byron Youth Service director Di Mahoney (right) and Kate Reed, the new co-ordinator of the service’s Project U-Turn.
Byron Youth Service director Di Mahoney (right) and Kate Reed, the new co-ordinator of the service’s Project U-Turn.

Teenage drinking targeted

Working with traumatised women and their children in the violent slums of Nairobi for five weeks this year revealed to counsellor Kate Reed just how deep she could “dig”.

It gave her, she said, a new sense of perspective of what in life might ‘rattle' her and how to deal with different situations.

Part of a Healing Hands team, Kate said some of the stories she had heard from women in the slums were ‘indescribable'.

“The stories the women told me will stay with me forever,” she said.

“There is so much violence over there. They are in physical danger every day.

“They are raising children in an unsafe and unclean environment. They are all traumatised.

“It was amazing and challenging. It was probably the most amazing experience of my life.

“I am stronger for it, I guess.”

Add that African experience to her previous work with homeless children in Sydney and with people with intellectual and mental disabilities and Kate is ready to launch herself into her new role as co-ordinator of the Byron Youth Service's Project U-Turn with a determination to reduce levels of risky drinking by teenagers and young adults in the Byron Shire.

The two-year project has received $250,000 funding through the National Binge Drinking Initiative set up by former PM Kevin Rudd.

Kate said the Byron Shire had been identified as having a big binge-drinking problem mainly because of the area's ‘party culture', and the lack of places for young people to ‘hang out' leading to boredom.

She said the shire also had a higher instance of single parent families – 24 percent of families compared with the national average of 15.8 percent – making it harder to supervise teenagers.

Binge drinking, she said, led to many hospitalisations, assaults and accidents that negatively affected young people, their friends, families and their future.

Still in its early days, Project U-Turn, said Kate, would focus on peer education with young people working together on the issues and coming up with ideas for dealing with binge drinking.

She said modern social networking technology would be used to get the message out to young people ‘in their language'.

Some of the planned initiatives included developing a drama production about binge drinking to be staged at schools, a short-film competition, development of a 15-second commercial for local cinemas, poster competition, Bluetooth mobile phone campaigns and an active presence at local events and festivals.

“We are lucky to live in a community that has so many grassroots groups who are willing to put up their hand to help with this problem,” Kate said.

“Together, we have all the inspiration, resources and commitment we need to turn this problem around.”

Kate said the success of the project would be measured by seeing the number of young people hospitalised through binge drinking reduced and through police statistics.

But more importantly, she said, she wanted young people to understand what binge drinking was doing to their developing bodies and brains and to be aware of the very serious dangers related to binge drinking.

“When young people drink, the frontal cortex of their brain, which is still developing, goes into shutdown mode,” she said.

“This area of the brain is used for logic and reasoning and weighing up risks and consequences.

“This means that young people are more susceptible to making poor choices when they are in this state.”

Kate said examples of poor choices included drink-driving, unprotected sex, getting into fights, leaving friends who have passed out from excessive drinking alone and vulnerable and committing crimes.

She said young people also should be aware they could die from having too much alcohol, either through alcohol poisoning, suffocating in their own vomit or having a serious accident.

On top of that, she said, there also was the chance of permanent brain and liver damage.

It's a big project, but Kate is ready for the challenge.

“I think we can make a difference,” she said.

Byron Youth Service director, Di Mahoney, said Kate was a great addition to both the BYS team and to the combined community efforts to influence and change the choices young people across the shire were making.

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