Schoolies thirsty for support

Schoolies celebrate at Victor Harbor

Young people don’t give much thought to their health or safety before turning up for their end-of-school festivals, but they are very willing to make use of available support, according to nursing academic Alison Hutton.

Associate Professor Hutton says that the well planned and organised support services offered during Schoolies’ Week at Victor Harbor, including on-site medical facilities and a 600-strong volunteer Green Team, are widely used and appreciated by the participants.

Associate Professor Hutton said that other measures that include free buses, a five kilometre dry-zone around the central site and the exclusion of “toolies” (older adults) from venues, helps to minimise violence and risks to safety.

Associate Professor Hutton, who has published two recent research papers based on a series of focus group interviews with former attendees, said that while most young people do prepare for the event, their main focus is on accommodation, budgeting for and organising their supplies of alcohol, and organising compatible groups of friends.

None of the groups reported seeking out health information ahead of their attendance.

“It is clear that young people do not go to official sources of health promotion for information – they go to peers or parents,” Associate Professor Hutton said.

“The participants had information handed down to them by schoolies of previous years, and the word was that ‘support was available if needed, especially from the Green Team’.

“Alcohol was viewed as a necessary aspect of having fun and enjoying oneself, and outside forces, friends and the Green Team provide for their safety.”

Ms Hutton said it was also a common strategy, based on previous experience, for a group member to refrain from drinking and take on the role of looking after the others: “Schoolies is seen as a rite of passage, but for many of the young people it is not their first exposure to drinking alcohol.”

Rather than attempting to ban alcohol, Ms Hutton believes that providing organised gatherings and support services is the most realistic way to minimise harm at schoolies celebrations.

“That is why the Victor Harbor Schoolies has had such a good record over the past few years,” she said.

Ms Hutton said there is interest in the model of management at Victor Harbor from interstate and also from overseas: Ms Hutton has been invited to present the keynote address at the Are Risk Event in Sweden in March 2014.

The papers have been published in the Australian Journal of Primary Health and Neonatal, Paediatric and Child Health Nursing.

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