A plan to boost youth health in Sydney

Amanda Lyons

9/01/2019 1:47:52 PM

The Inner West Sydney Youth Health and Wellbeing Plan aims to help young people achieve better access to services specific to their needs.

Isaiah Dawe, ambassador of the Inner West Sydney Youth and Health Wellbeing Plan, wants to help young people who have been through the same struggles as himself.
Isaiah Dawe, ambassador of the Inner West Sydney Youth and Health Wellbeing Plan, wants to help young people who have been through the same struggles as himself.

Isaiah Dawe is a Butchulla and Gawara salt water Aboriginal man, and the Chief Executive and Founder of ID. Know Yourself, a mentoring company for Aboriginal teenagers in foster care.
He is also himself a survivor of Australia’s foster care system.
‘I experienced all sorts of abuse and struggles, but one thing that helped me was keeping a healthy lifestyle,’ he told newsGP.
Eventually, Mr Dawe was placed in the home of foster father Eric Bell, in the New South Wales town of Yass, which marked a period of stability and inspiration in his life.
‘I was told by my foster father that if you have a healthy mind, healthy body, healthy spirit, you will benefit in so many parts of your life, whether that’s professional, your social life, and your relationships,’ he said. ‘I always remembered that and held it up.
‘When he passed away two years ago, he’d been the biggest role model in my life and I decided to engage with youth, because I wanted to follow in his footsteps and make change for the better. I wanted to embrace that stature.’
His experiences have informed Mr Dawe’s decision to become an ambassador for the Inner West Sydney Youth Health and Wellbeing Plan 2018–2023 (the plan), which was launched in late 2018 with the aim of improving access to health services for young people across the area.
‘I now see a vehicle for those who are in my situation to become whoever they want to be with this plan guiding them along the way in life,’ he said.
Lesley Pullen, the Youth Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Manager at Central and Eastern Sydney Primary Health Network (PHN), had a key role in the development of the plan and is passionate about addressing the healthcare needs of young people.

Lesley Pullen wants to help teach young people that GPs can help them with a whole range of problems, not just physical ailments.
‘Young people have a right to have good health and wellbeing, and they have distinct health needs from adults in the fact that they’re going through adolescence and a lot of physical, emotional and cognitive changes,’ she told newsGP.
‘So some sort of support is often needed, with a different approach than you might use for an adult.
‘They also can face particular barriers when using services. It’s not like trying to negotiate a service when you’re adult, it’s about having a service that is appealing and meets the needs of young people so they can feel safe and able to share their stories and their concerns.’
The plan has been designed to help meet the needs of young people in general, but also those of the particular demographics that make up inner-west Sydney, which includes significant numbers of young people from different backgrounds, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, culturally and linguistically diverse, people with disability, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTQI).
There are other specific challenges facing the area, such as the number of young people facing homelessness or the risk of become homeless.
‘About 25% of young homeless people in New South Wales actually live in the inner-west of Sydney,’ Ms Pullen explained.
Mr Dawe is hopeful that the plan can help provide support to vulnerable young people who may otherwise fall between the cracks.
‘They have been neglected and become vulnerable and exposed to things like drugs, crime, petty theft, and homelessness,’ he said.
‘They often don’t have stability in their lives, which is tricky – if you don’t have stability at home, it affects everything.’
The plan presents a collaborative effort among the Sydney Local Health District and government and community services that provide care for young people. Much of its goal is not only to create new services for young people, but to improve access to existing services.
‘In Sydney, there’s a lot of density in terms of services out there, but then how do you navigate them and how do you know who can do what, as a young person?’ Ms Pullen said.
One of the key aspects of the plan is to boost awareness about the full range of support GPs can provide.
‘Young people might think of GPs only as someone you can go to when you’re sick or you’ve got some physical ailment,’ Ms Pullen said.
‘But they can help with a number of issues: sexual health, contraception, they can talk about alcohol, drug use, relationship issues, they can help navigate those difficulties and maybe put some of those things in perspective. And they can also talk about anxiety or other mental health concerns and how you might be able to manage them.’
Mr Dawe believes better understanding of what GPs can do could be extremely helpful for many young people.
‘It’s the first step; if you need someone to yarn to, go to a GP, tell them what’s up. They can probably help you,’ he said.
The plan will also provide support for GPs about how to offer a more youth-friendly service, to further reduce barriers young people may experience in accessing primary care, such as in the types of materials that are on display in the practice waiting room.
There are also in-consultation issues for GPs to consider.
‘If young people have been seeing a family doctor with their parents, and then get to a stage where they’d like to have a conversation without their parents, they may worry that the doctor will tell their parents about that conversation,’ Ms Pullen said.
‘So it’s about letting young people know about confidentiality, and that anything they talk about is private.
‘And of course GPs are really good at being able to support mental health, so knowing about what sort of services are out there that they might be able to refer the young person to get their mental health concerns looked after.’
Ms Pullen is proud of the plan and hopes it will provide guidance, and not just to the inner-west Sydney area.
‘Hopefully it will influence and be used in future planning and processes across the region as well, so that it is there for local government or government organisations who might be looking at what they’re doing in terms of youth health,’ she said.
‘So it’s not just something that sits on the shelf, but something that’s a living document.’

Inner West Sydney Youth Health and Wellbeing Plan NSW Sydney Young people’s health

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