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COMMUNITY AFFAIRS REFERENCES COMMITTEE
31/03/2010
Suicide in Australia

CHAIR —Welcome. I understand you have been given information on parliamentary privilege and the protection of witnesses and evidence.

Mrs Allen —Yes.

CHAIR —We have your submission. I invite either or both of you to make an opening statement and then we will ask you some questions.

Mrs Allen —I will just give you a little bit of information about Youth Focus. Rachel, I know that you have some and I think probably Senator Moore does as well—I think I met you in Canberra.

Senator MOORE —Absolutely, yes.

Mrs Allen —Youth Focus was established in 1994, specifically for youth counselling, family counselling, peer support programs and training and mentoring for young people 12 to 18 years of age. We offer these services at this particular time to approximately 1,000 young people and 200 families, but each year we turn away many who need our help, and there are those that do not ask for help.

In an average year 12 classroom, at least one young person will have attempted suicide and at least seven will have experienced a mental health difficulty, but only two will have sought professional help. We should ask ourselves why, in a society like ours, where most of us feel we live in a lucky country, so many of our young people deal with such devastating issues.

Youth Focus works therapeutically and holistically in a non-time frame with young people aged 12 to 18. More recently we have had Focus Plus, which is another program, working with people aged up to 25. Youth Focus is for young people who are showing early signs of suicide, depression and self-harm. In Western Australia we have a proven track record and believe in operating with partners like Inspire Foundation, Lifeline, Orygen and beyondblue on the eastern seaboard. We strongly believe in working together, not just as a single unit.

We have been recognised as an innovative and forward-thinking organisation. We have grown since 2000, when we had three staff and a budget of about $240,000, mainly in government funding, to having a budget now of $3 million and almost no government funding. We operate in metropolitan Perth and in the Peel area in three locations, which include Rockingham, Kwinana and Mandurah, and we have an office in Collie and one in Bunbury. In mid-April we are opening one in Albany.

The other thing I want to bring to the floor is that I have recently been appointed to the SPA board nationally. No doubt you have had submissions from SPA regarding the statistics that many in our industry are led to believe are falling in the area of suicide. I think it is fairly amazing. I questioned why the ABS 2007 statistics show a five per cent rise overall, and coroners have agreed that in all probability the reported stats are some 30 per cent below what they should be. I think this is probably going to cause a lot of distress. I have to question how we are going to handle it within our industry and how we are going to introduce that.

I would now like to introduce Nicole. She is the acting manager of youth and family services and so works very much at the coalface. She intends to portray the areas that Youth Focus believe need to be addressed and which we have gleaned through the work that we do in face-to-face situations with our counselling and our peer support programs for the young people that we see. I will hand over to Nicole now.

Ms Marshall —I would just like to make clear that my background is as a registered psych, so I am coming to you today from the point of view of somebody who works on a day-to-day basis with suicidal young people. I am not an academic or a researcher as such but I think I have a pretty good grounding in some of the issues that are happening. I would like to add as well that I do not necessarily think that there are any experts in this area. It is a very complex issue, and certainly all the young people that I talk to have a very personal and individual story to tell. I would like to offer some of my thoughts on this topic, and I thank you for the opportunity to do so today.

I believe the role of agencies offering prevention and early intervention in the area of suicide prevention is crucial. The sorts of prevention measures that we are talking about are going into schools, running workshops, having conversations with young people about what depression really is and about mental illness and giving them opportunities to open up and talk about it. A lot of the workshops that are currently occurring in schools are quite didactic in the sense that they are information, information, information, and there is not really a lot of opportunity to get down and have a talk from people who have experienced these sorts of issues and have them tell their stories in a narrative approach. I think that that would be a really fabulous way for these kinds of things to evolve.

As an agency, at the moment we have one person fulfilling that role—going into schools and doing that kind of training—so it is barely enough to break the surface of what needs to be done. I feel that programs that support agencies to do more meaningful prevention work would be highly valuable. Generation Y and gen X kids need a bit of a different approach in terms of technology in different ways to get their passion flowing and their creativity going. I think we are still trying to learn how to communicate with the younger folk, and it would be really interesting to get some more information about that. I believe that transcending adversity through stories is a very powerful medium.

Research tells us that being mentally unwell, say through depression, is very toxic to the brain. A brain that has been depressed for some time will find it harder to move out of that state, so, again, prevention is very much better than cure. Counsellors at Youth Focus try to help the young people to build up their resiliency, build on their strengths, learn prosocial ways of coping and talk problems out so that they can be worked through. Many of our clients would end up having to access child and mental health services if they were not provided with the service that we have.

One of the difficulties that we have is that trying to grow the service is a challenge because from year to year we do not know what sort of funding we are going to be able to access, so that can be quite stalling. I guess we have to sing for our supper a little bit in our organisation. As Jenny has said, we do not have a lot of government funding, so we need to run our own events and go and talk to corporates. I do not believe, obviously, that the government should have to do all of this, and it is only right that the corporate sector and the community take some responsibility for providing funding, but we hear a lot in government about building capacity and things like that, and obviously that is very challenging in the not-for-profit sector if we do not have that support.

When young people tell me about their difficulties, one of the big areas that seems to impact on their wellbeing the most is the family unit—no surprises there. As we know, adolescence is a really tough time for kids and also for parents. We have found that families are at a loss as to how to communicate with their kids and how to break through. We have two family counsellors at the moment. Unfortunately, we do not have an outreach capacity for the family service, so families need to come to either Burswood or Joondalup to access that. So, again, I think more flexibility in the delivery model of services for families needs to be looked at. We have the luxury of a free service, obviously. We can provide long-term counselling. Some of our clients have been with us for a couple of years. We know that that is a luxury. Obviously government departments really cannot offer that level of service, but we feel that we need to take it even further and break down that barrier of families accessing the service by us going out to them in their communities. I was just listening to the speaker earlier, and I absolutely agree with the sense that each community needs its own approach to suicide prevention. There is not a one-size-fits-all model. Having project workers in each borough, in each area, to bring all the different services together would be absolutely fantastic.

Another thought is with regard to reporting in the media on this issue. We have all heard about the prevalence of copycat suicides. When someone completes a suicide, quite often there is a peak in the number of suicides occurring around that time. So I do understand why the media is nervous about addressing the issue of suicide, but not to talk about it at all, pretty much, I think only reinforces the belief that it is wrong to talk about suicide. It makes people feel like they are alone—and this is the information that I have been given from my clients. Reviewing policies with a view to creating some guidelines that protect people but also help organisations work with these issues would also help the media know what they can talk about and what they cannot talk about. I think at the moment it is very stigmatising.

When we go into schools at the present time, we cannot mention the word suicide and we certainly cannot talk about self-harm, even though that is what we really need to do, because there is a lot of fear around: ‘Gosh, you’re going to actually create it; you’re going to encourage people to go and try self-harm.’ But how can we break down those stigmas if we are not actually hitting it head on? I guess we as an agency are a bit unsure about what we should be doing, so some research around that and some guidelines would be really, really helpful.

We have a real shortage of male counsellors working in the helping professions. As a case in point, we have 15 counsellors at Youth Focus; we have one male. Obviously this puts a strain on young guys coming in and wanting to speak to a male counsellor. That is not always possible. I do not know what we can do about this other than get out into schools and encourage young men to sign up for psychology and social science courses. I think the same thing goes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Since I have been at Youth Focus, in the last three years we have had lots of job opportunities come to the fore and we have not had one Indigenous person apply for the job, which is a real shame because, again, that stops Indigenous young folk, I believe, accessing our service, and there is a lot of work to be done in that area.

Young people, clients of mine, who have presented to the hospital system due to suicidal ideation or self-harming behaviour report to me that in some cases the experience is very punitive. Staff working in emergency departments and with self-harming young people, I feel, need to be trained more extensively in this area so that they can avoid compounding the problem by fostering more shame and guilt in the young person. Being punitive and telling a young person not to waste our time when they come in with self-harming injuries only leads to further isolation and stigma. If medical professions and those at the front line foster these kinds of prejudices and misconceptions, I ask what hope there is for young people accessing those services. I had a conversation with a nurse last week who was quite angry about the number of young people presenting to ER with self-harm, and she actually said to me that she sees it as attention-seeking behaviour. I thought, ‘Gosh, how helpful is that to a young person coming in who is really struggling—to get that sort of attitude?’ I believe that rigorous training that really challenges people’s belief systems needs to happen to get that shift.

One of the themes that you are going to hear a lot about today is connectedness—‘act, belong, commit’—and the belonging aspect of that. We believe very strongly at Youth Focus that this is a real way forward for people. There are a lot of young men, Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders and all sorts of people who simply are not going to go to an agency to have a conversation with a professional. What I believe needs to happen is that people need to be encouraged by their families, by schools and from all points of view to get involved in their communities and commit to things. People who are connected to their families, their friends and their communities are much less likely to suffer from mental health problems.

In the work that we do with young people, we are always looking for the barriers to connectedness and working to break those down, and the same applies to agencies and organisations working in this area. There are still many silos out there—people doing great work but still being an island in what they are doing. The movement right now, quite rightly, is towards collaboration and the joining up of services to create more of a net under the vulnerable. As Jenny mentioned briefly, we have a memorandum of understanding with Inspire Foundation and also with Lifeline Australia with the hope to create a triad of services from the phone counselling, the face-to-face counselling and the internet counselling to cover the bases, as it were. I think I will leave it there.

CHAIR —Thanks. Senator Furner, I know you have a time line, so do you want to ask any questions?

Senator FURNER —Yes, thank you, I appreciate that. I have a particular interest in the self-harming area. Your submission talks about—and this is the first question I would like to put you—the Beck Depression Inventory and Beck Anxiety Inventory supports. Can you just elaborate a little bit on what they are please?

Ms Marshall —Certainly. They are outcomes measures. Within the first three or four sessions of seeing a young person we will give them these measures to complete, which gives a score which indicates what their level of depression and anxiety may be. That allows us to review the counselling each three months or so or as necessary and, at the exit point, to assess our level of success in terms of supporting that young person. To be honest, it is an area that we are looking into further. We as an agency are not convinced that those are the best measures and the most appropriate for our client group. That is certainly an area of development that we are currently looking at. Other than providing us with a raw score and indicating whether someone may be in the clinical range and therefore needing a referral to a GP or CAMS it actually is a conversation tool—questions such as, ‘When does that happen? When doesn’t it happen?’ It really allows us to thoroughly assess what is going on for that young person. You might be surprised by the fact that we give an anxiety inventory when we are looking at depression. We find that quite often the two go hand in hand. Where there is depression, quite often there is also anxiety—social anxieties and those kinds of things.

Senator FURNER —Do you find that in terms of the assessment that the youth are self-harming elsewhere on their body, which may not be able to be identified?

Ms Marshall —Absolutely. In most cases self-harming is a very private act. Most of the clients whom I work with self-harm on areas of the body that you would not necessarily see. They wear long shirts and things like that. Actually, a very small percentage kind of wear their scars with pride, if you like. That is why it is very difficult to find out who is doing it. It actually takes somebody to come forward and to say, ‘I’ve been doing this for a couple of years.’ It almost has an addictive quality to it. The medical model would say that if you are feeling a lot of emotional pain and you cut yourself you do have a release of endorphins so, on some level, it kind of works. But, as with anything, you kind of need more and more of it so, ultimately, you get more and more scars and you have to cut deeper and things like that. It is a tricky one, and there is a lot of shame involved. I do ask all my clients who are self-harming, ‘Can I see your scars; I need to assess what’s going on?’ It is really difficult for them to actually show those scars.

Mrs Allen —Just jumping in there, I do not know whether anybody has mentioned but we are just starting to work at the hospital with Fiona Wood. One of the latest parts of self-harming is burning with wart medicine on the arms. She is having to replace skin because the burns are quite severe. It appears that, in a self-harming area, cutting is the most common but people always seem to be finding new ways and new things to do as far as how they self-harm, which is pretty disturbing. We are starting to work with the hospital there.

Senator FURNER —The previous witness spoke about the opportunities for research into schools. If you are not able to go into schools and talk about self-harming how do you cross that barrier of getting over that hurdle of identifying people and gathering that research yourself?

Ms Marshall —That is a very good question. In schools we try to talk about depression and mental health in the context of how it can make people do some very unusual things and we give some examples. We do not actually use the word ‘self-harm’, but I say that people engage in quite destructive behaviours—it could be drinking alcohol, driving fast cars, it could be related to pain and that kind of thing—to try to send out the message that we are aware it is going on and to please come forward.

Mrs Allen —We were just talking about that. We have just finished an event, the Hawaiian Ride for Youth, where we ride from Albany to Perth on bicycles, me in a car and them—44 of them—on bikes. We call in at nine schools on the way, so we do a whole lot on awareness and prevention. Interestingly, many of those schools do want you to talk about suicide prevention. Normally, two riders present at each school and they talk about why they are doing it and about their commitment et cetera. We have seen probably 1,500 kids in the last week. We just finished on Saturday night.

Another interesting thing is that during the November before we do this ride we actually visit those schools. We have a presence in them because of our south-west run that I just mentioned. I listened to the people before us as well—from the ministerial council—and each area has different problems, so we tried this year to pitch our speakers at those problems. Some of the schools in Albany are currently dealing with violence. Last year it was suicide in Albany and when we got there this year it was self-harm. I think they go through stages of the issues that we deal with on an everyday basis and they become more prevalent in school.

The other thing is respect. Younger women are taking photos of themselves topless and sending them to the 14-year-old boyfriend; then the whole school has them. There is absolute chaos around the place. It is a case of just dealing with respect for themselves and for each other. We have been able to do that, which I think is very much about prevention and really creating for them an awareness in those regional schools that people like us do exist and that they need to go forward and put up their hands and talk to people like us in their schools.

In that regard the counsellors cannot speak about it but, when we do an event like we have just done, often Mr and Mrs Average who ride—elite riders, I might add—are prepared to share their stories, because many of them ride immemorial of either people they have lost or someone they have known. It is really quite emotive. We take questions and the kids become really involved. Many of the schools will show our video before we get there and they include it in their curriculum. They might do an assignment on it before we ride into the schools.

CHAIR —Was that the video you showed us in Canberra or is there another one?

Mrs Allen —There is a new video out called A Reason to Ride, a documentary. If we show a video or they show a video we get them to look at it before they decide what they are going to do. Most of them do not show our videos but some do choose to, but they show it quite separately and then they have open forum discussion with their kids in whatever year.

Ms Marshall —The other thing to add is that we also have an advocacy service at Youth Focus so that people, school psychologists and parents do ring us and we can talk through ways to cope. We recommend that they be quite forthright and ask outright: are you self-harming? Sometimes it can be a relief.

Mrs Allen —I would like to reiterate what Nicky has said regarding the media. We as an organisation and you people as government need to address that matter, because we are still skirting around the edges of it. We are really not addressing it and media are still petrified to write anything because of the copycat instances. We cannot keep pushing it under the carpet, as we have done for so many years. It is still a huge stigma for people. If you talk to people who have been through it—for example, we have several mothers who ride with us who are triathletes who have lost children—they are very definite that if they had known more they would have been much more helpful to their children.

Ms Marshall —I think that is the concept of personal stories and that is why we brought up that matter. I think that is the missing link. Rather than coming in and giving information, if people from the ground up are sharing their stories—teachers and parents—then we can break down that stigma without kind of saying, ‘We’re going to encourage it.’ It is more real.

Senator FURNER —Should there be more of a campaign, similar to the bike campaign you do out there in our communities, similar to the one Senator Moore and me are actively involved in, which is Relay for Life for Queensland Cancer? A couple of times a year we get involved in raising awareness and we give donations to find cures and solutions. Do you think there should be a greater awareness through that sort of initiative as well?

Ms Marshall —To be honest, I think that can only go so far. We are coming from the point of view of young people. With a lot of that stuff, people say, ‘Those oldies are going for a run again; they have no idea what they’re doing,’ so I wonder whether we need to make it more youth friendly and more appropriate to the individual communities themselves, whether it be Aboriginal people, young men or older people—whatever the risk factors are.

Mrs Allen —Also, the young men area is such a difficult area. As we have just said to you, to get male counsellors is almost as difficult as finding hen’s teeth. It is terrible. I do not know what the answer to that is. The only way we counteract it is through our mentoring programs. Fortunately, we have a lot of men who train to be mentors and that helps us somewhat with our young boys. Otherwise, people have to deal each time with women and often they do come from only a female family with no role models in their life, so I think it also exacerbates the problems.

Senator ADAMS —Can you give me the names of the towns that you went to on this particular ride? I come from Kojonup.

Mrs Allen —We start in Albany and come through Denmark, Walpole, Pemberton, Busselton, Bunbury, Mandurah and Perth.

Senator ADAMS —The south-west. I was just wondering if you did the great southern loop.

Mrs Allen —No, the two people we have moving into Albany in our office will go out to Denmark and Mount Barker. We have not gone to Kojonup yet. It is difficult each time with how we are going to do it. I want to let you know that 40 per cent of our referral base does come through the schools. It is really again about funding. Paul Newman’s foundation funded the office in Albany to start with and the ride has funded the rest. We then have to get the business community behind us.

We found Collie to be probably one of the most difficult towns to break into. We do not go riding in on our white horses anymore. We go in there and work with the other local agencies that are there and with the school. We normally work out of the school. We might be there a half day or a day. We sort of start in that way to get the community involved and then we bring the businesses behind that to make it sustainable. There is a lump sum to start with and then we have to be able to sustain it.

We found with regional communities that the worst thing is to go in and then take the service out. I experienced it the first time we went to Collie. Several of the agencies said they were moving out—one was the drug agency and I cannot think what the other was. People just say, ‘They come and go.’ That is never our intention. When we move somewhere we have to stay there.

Senator ADAMS —Are you working closely with the school chaplaincy programs?

Mrs Allen —Yes, we are. We just delivered at their conference last year. We are really just teaching and advising chaplains the things they should know and what they should be looking for to be able to liaise with us.

Ms Marshall —We developed a package called Attention on Prevention. It was a train the trainer model. We ran the program for the chaplains and then gave them the package to run in their schools.

Senator ADAMS —Would we be able to have a copy of that?

Ms Marshall —Absolutely.

Senator ADAMS —I think that would be very useful. Coming from a small community, I know just how important that chaplaincy fund is and the fundraising that is done to keep the person there. They are the conduit for all of these children who have a problem. They trust them. The teachers are too busy. That person is a member of the community, knows the families and has a really good idea about what is going on. Often they have children of their own.

Mrs Allen —It is essential they stay there.

Senator ADAMS —I have been asking about the use of the Internet and Facebook. Before communication was probably within the classroom and the school and not really as widespread as it is now. I will use the example of a student doing their TEE who is getting desperate and feels everything is going wrong. They feel so stressed they do not know what to do. If they put a comment on Facebook it goes everywhere. Do you have any sort of program for somebody who has got that message and realises that that kid needs help? Do you have any way of linking in there?

Ms Marshall —We just did some work with the town of Vic Park last month. Someone from Microsoft, the Federal Police and Youth Focus had a forum with parents and teachers and talked about cyberbullying and the safety parameters that are available that you could put on that. Certainly it is something all the counsellors bring up with young people—how to keep safe and that kind of thing. We do not actually have a program as such, but we are working very closely with Inspire, who are housed in our building, on trying to develop these programs. Young people are much more computer savvy than we are so it is trying to learn what they know and then come through with something helpful.

Senator ADAMS —There are drug awareness programs that say to look after your mate. If something happens and they are unconscious, the program tells them what to do. These people are where? This person is obviously crying out for help. How do the people who receive that email deal with it?

Mrs Allen —That is why we have set that triangle up, because we are not a crisis centre. To have Lifeline as a crisis area and to have Inspire to back us up, especially in the regional areas, is really important, where our young people know about the Reach Out program. Eventually what we will be doing with Inspire, or one of the plans, is that several counsellors will man the Reach Out area at night because, as you know, it goes all over Australia.

Senator ADAMS —I have asked this question before of government people. Is there a program within schools for year 12 students and those sitting for TE on how to deal with stress?

Ms Marshall —There is some really good stuff happening in schools, but it is done on a bit of an ad hoc basis. There is not a blanket program going across to all year 12s. I was previously working as a school psych. Certainly in the goldfields and in Joondalup, where I was working, there were some fantastic stress management programs for students in years 11 and 12. A lot of them had been designed and put together by the staff in schools. They included meditation and relaxation and all that sort of stuff. It was really good work.

Senator ADAMS —Does the health department do any training of triage staff within our emergency departments here on helping self-harm people or mental health patients so that when they front up they do not get left sitting in a corner for four or five hours because it is all too hard?

Mrs Allen —I think it is ad hoc, again. Some do it very well and some not so well. I think PMH do it quite well. Some of the kids that we see obviously go there. In relation to self-harm, I think the punitive area is still very relevant in all the departments. I can only speak from my experience with one lass I was looking after, who sat for hours and hours. She needed stitching and all that sort of stuff and they left her, basically as a punishment. If you talk to people who have actually been in that situation, you find that it still happens and it still happens very regularly. It is almost like they have to punish them. I think they understand, but they do not accept that this person is crying out for help and, because of what they are doing, they do not need to be punished any more; they have punished themselves really.

CHAIR —I would question that understanding. If they are still treating people like that, I do not think they truly understand.

Senator ADAMS —We have heard so much evidence of exactly what you are talking about. How can we fix it here in Western Australia?

Mrs Allen —Again, I think it is education. It is about educating those people in ER departments. They would say that they are stressed and overworked and they do not have enough people and all those types of things, but I think there needs to be a program put in place about self-harm, because it is very relevant at the moment, especially in the target group we work with.

Senator ADAMS —In orientation, surely to goodness, when they train and go to work there, there must be something. I will probably bring it up with Kim Snowball, because we have had so much evidence about it, and see where that is going.

Ms Marshall —I would argue that everybody working on the front line with people who potentially have mental health difficulties should have mandatory training on that—and good training that really challenges and really gets in there, not just gives you a blanket bit of information and you kind of walk away go, ‘Yeah, well.’ It should be, ‘Gosh, I have really seen things in a different light.’ It has to be the right training.

Senator ADAMS —Some emergency departments have had a mental health trained person present on the roster. Is this happening?

Mrs Allen —That still happens, yes.

CHAIR —In all our emergency departments in WA?

Ms Marshall —Certainly PMH, which is the one that we deal with the most. If a young person presents to ER with suicidal thoughts there will always be a mental health person there to assess them and talk to them.

CHAIR —But you do not know about the other major hospitals?

Ms Marshall —No, mainly because, although we go up to 25, our target group does not go much above that. The person I was discussing was a 20-year-old girl.

CHAIR —Would the 20-year-old end up at PMH?

Mrs Allen —No, she was at RPH, at Royal Perth.

CHAIR —I know, from having responsibility for kids over 13, I would automatically take them to one of the bigger hospitals, not to PMH.

Mrs Allen —Up to the age of 16 they have them there.

CHAIR —But a lot of parents would take them straight to their nearest ER rather than going into PMH.

Mrs Allen —Yes, that is quite true.

Ms Marshall —There is a dedicated social worker at RPH for self-harm.

CHAIR —What about Joondalup?

Ms Marshall —I do not think there is one at Joondalup, not for self-harm. There is not one at PMH either specifically for self-harm.

Mrs Allen —The other thing I would like to mention is that we pull out a lot of data, a lot of statistics and we have a fairly good data system. Nobody uses it. Ministerial council—nobody uses it. We have never been asked for it. I have discussed that with them many times.

CHAIR —Even when they were developing the latest strategy?

Mrs Allen —Yes—never used it. I think a thousand kids is a fairly large number, plus 1,500 that we see and talk to, as I have just mentioned. Overall, we probably talk to close to 3,000 young people a year. It is a fairly good number.

Senator ADAMS —So what about the institute? They have not caught on?

Mrs Allen —No. And they do know us very much, but they do not use our data. So I make that point.

Senator ADAMS —Thank you; that is very valuable. They are talking about partnerships—I think you would be a pretty important part of that partnership.

Mrs Allen —I would think, from a metropolitan area, yes, very much so.

Senator ADAMS —Were you asked to go into Narrogin?

Mrs Allen —No, nothing. Just to clarify that, we would often be asked by schools in the metropolitan area if there is an issue that they might like us to go in and deal with. We have had a group of six kids that were going to commit suicide, so we have gone in and done some group work with them et cetera. In the country areas we probably do not get asked. We will now more so because of the spread we have in the south-west. For instance, I have just set up a visit by Julian Krieg, who you probably know, to one of the schools in Albany which is having difficulty with young boys and violence. He will perhaps do some seminars there. We can work in partnership with those sorts of people. Otherwise we would mainly get asked to help out in the metropolitan area if there is an issue.

Senator ADAMS —I asked because Narrogin just had that crisis with the school and all the problems there. I would have thought that, despite the fact that you are metropolitan based, they would have utilised you as a resource to go in and get it balanced up a bit.

CHAIR —I have one final question. Yesterday we were talking to Mission Australia and they gave us a copy of their national survey. We were all interested to look at some of the statistics that they highlighted around where young people seek their advice. The overwhelming majority of them said it was from their families. It varied. As people got older, fewer and fewer went to their families, and it also varied between gender. Is your data consistent with that—that, first off, young people would go to their families?

Ms Marshall —My experience is that it has probably been more to peers, because, again, we work with the adolescent age group, so they are moving away from mum and dad and attaching more to their peers. That is why we developed the peer support program, which is four camps a year where at-risk and socially isolated young people come away with us for 48 hours. It is a therapeutic camp but there is a balance of creative activities, sporting activities and group work, to connect them up really. It is fabulous to see that, at the end of it, they are swapping numbers and hooking up and all the rest of it. That is why we developed that program, because really that is where the work is done—educate the peers and get the strategies out there and they can pass them on to each other. That is our experience. Things might be changing.

CHAIR —That is why I asked. Certainly the evidence that we have had to date indicates that people were going to their peers or others rather than families. That is why I thought I would ask.

Mrs Allen —And so many families are broken.

CHAIR —Yes. Thank you very much. Your time is very much appreciated. We have given you a bit of homework. If you need any clarification on that, the secretariat will assist you.

Proceedings suspended from 10.55 am to 11.16 am