Disadvantaged Youth Give Australia Cause to Pause

Disadvantaged Youth Give Australia Cause to Pause

 Five years ago, Australia’s youth (ages 12-24), accounted for one-fifth of its population.

What does the future look like, when alarming numbers of our Australian youth are increasingly vulnerable?

According to Mission Australia’s Youth Survey, the top three issues of national concern as highlighted by participants, were mental health, alcohol and drugs, and equality and discrimination.

And their concerns are startlingly valid:

  • Every week in Australia, four teenagers are killed due to alcohol-related incidents.
  • Every month, 22,000 young people turn to alcohol and drug support services for help.
  • And yet, according to a 2018 World Health Organization report, drug misuse is the number 01 most stigmatised health issue.

“Those who are vulnerable need help that is first of all non-judgmental and which doesn’t start out by viewing us as statistics”, comments one of the many individuals who has received help at Youth Support + Advocacy Services (YSAS) in Victoria, an organisation committed to providing support to disadvantaged youth, and the organisation behind febfast, Australia’s longest-running month-long challenge.

febfast is the only event of this nature solely dedicated to vulnerable youth.

The team at YSAS sees the saddening presentations on an everyday, multiple-times-a-day basis. To date, the organisation has reached out to and transformed the lives of more than 20,000 youth.

The key issues, in a number perspective

According to the Youth Needs Census in 2016, completed by workers from 35 government funded Victorian Youth Alcohol and Drug treatment services regarding the young people in their care:

Dependence on substances

  • 48% cannabis
  • 13% methamphetamine
  • 11% alcohol

Drug related risk and harm

37% of young people experienced one of the following substance related harms in the three months before the census:

  • Hospital or ambulance attendance
  • Physical injuries or harm
  • Driving while substance affected
  • Having unprotected sex
  • Being the victim/or perpetrator of physical violence

Abuse, neglect and trauma

Note: Percentages reported based upon what workers report knowing. Reporting may not reflect true rates of these experiences as the Census did not include interviews or metrics

  • 36% have experienced neglect
  • 51% emotional abuse
  • 39% physical abuse
  • 17% sexual abuse
  • 22% were the victims of violent crimes

Mental health

  • 35% have a current mental health diagnosis
  • 39% non-suicidally self-injure
  • 20% have attempted suicide in the past

Criminal activity

  • 15% of young people in treatment had engaged in criminal activity in the past four weeks
  • 49.5% had ever been involved in the criminal justice system

Education and employment

  • 19% of young people were in education and 21% in employment


  • 50% had significant conflict with their families
  • 29% are completely disconnected from family

Housing stability

  • 58% had current difficulties in housing stability

Why is febfast so important?

Some case history background examples are:


Chloe looks forward to a career as a drug and alcohol support worker. Just as with most vocations, hers stems from personal experience: of her life as a 12-year-old, selling drugs to make ends meet.

“I had a job as a kitchen hand, and I earned $170 a week. I’d buy about $140 worth of drugs and sell those to buy groceries, and if I had money left over I’d continue the cycle by buying more drugs to sell, just to get by somehow. What I really like about YSAS is that at the beginning, they find out as much as possible about you so they can match you with someone best equipped to help you. The support I got from YSAS gave me so much stability; and it opened doors for me. It put me in a place where I was no longer desperately clutching at straws trying to handle a difficult situation but finally able to step away from it all, view it objectively, learn from it, and move on.”



Nathan was raised by his older sister who battled drug addiction. He was on alcohol by the age of 10, and hard drugs by the age of 12.

“I was charged with a number of things and lucky enough to be referred to YSAS rather than to juvenile court, so as to keep me out of prison. A lot of kids would be straight-out homeless if it weren’t for being helped by a service like YSASand being shown where and what theiroptions are. Without being shown the avenues open to them and the dangers associated with risk-taking behaviour – crime, suicide, overdoses – a lot of them can and will go on to die or being incarcerated. There’s so much understanding and support at YSAS, and for someone stuck in difficulty there’s a real sense of hope and belief, finally, that things can be different.”


Main campaign spokesperson is Andrew Bruun, CEO YSAS

Andrew Bruun is the Chief Executive Officer at YSAS, the Director of The Centre for Youth AOD Practice Development and an honorary fellow at the University of Melbourne, Department of Psychiatry.
He has worked in the field of adolescent health as practitioner, educator and researcher since the mid-1980s. His special interest is in young people and families experiencing alcohol and drug-related problems and is committed to enabling service providers and policy makers to better understand and respond to their needs.
Andrew Bruun is based in Melbourne.

Dr Karen Hallam, Senior Research Fellow

Dr Karen Hallam is a Senior Research Fellow and Research Manager at YSAS in Melbourne. Karen completed her PhD in the Psychiatry Department in the area of mood disorders and followed with a Clinical Psychology Masters. Since then, Karen has worked as a Senior Lecturer in University clinical psychology programs for a decade training clinical psychologists.
Karen currently manages the Research Team as a Senior Research Fellow at Youth Support and Advocacy Service (YSAS) in Melbourne and leads their research program in the area of youth disadvantage and substance use.  Karen’s research and clinical track record focuses on youth, wellbeing and working with young people. Karen has over 50 publications and strong track record of national and international speaking and workshop facilitation around youth mental health issues.
Dr Karen Hallam is based in Melbourne.

Other spokespeople include:

Name Role
Victoria YSAS  
Dominic Ennis General Manager: Services
Tara Schultz Case Study
Brisbane Youth Service
Di Mahoney Service Delivery Director
Erin Field Hub Intake and Intervention Manager
Unnamed Queensland Case Histories


We will be able to secure spokespeople from other areas if there is a need.


For interviews with campaign spokespeople please contact:

Glenda Wynyard, The Media Precinct, 0410 736 785 or email [email protected]

Tahnee Hopman, The Media Precinct, 0423 848 349 or email [email protected]


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