The engagement of young people in youth AOD services can be maximized by ensuring that they have a clear understanding of what is offered by a service, how it is offered and how it can be accessed.

To maximise the success of a referral, service providers should ensure that clear and concise information regarding the service is available for potential clients and referrers. It is preferable for this information to be designed specifically for particular target audiences with differing needs and preferences (families, statutory services, young people from different cultural backgrounds and who don’t speak English, etc). This information should include:

  • How the service can provide assistance and who is eligible
  • Contact options (attending, phone numbers, internet access, etc) and what can be expected when contact is made
  • Clear information on the physical location of the service (public transport options) and disabled access
  • Direct messaging that welcomes those who as a result of past experience may expect rejection or that their needs and preferences could be ignored (Aboriginal young people, same sex attracted young people, etc).

Youth AOD practitioners and services can develop strong referral networks through collaborative links with practitioners and agencies in gateway service systems (such as youth justice, mental health, child welfare, school counselling and homeless support). This maximises the potential for young people and families, who are clear on what to expect, to be referred to AOD services. (Ozechowski & Waldron, 2010). Participation with other local services in joint programming or local community initiatives can build and strengthen collaborative links and at the same time provide another avenue to build connections with eligible young people and families.

Young people often share information and resources through their networks. Present and past clients can provide excellent word-of-mouth promotion for a service or in the same way can warn other young people to resist involvement. Further, the peers of clients are likely to share similar experiences to clients and should be treated by services as potential clients. Practitioners are advised to ensure these young people understand the nature of the services being offered and how they can be accessed.

Young people are also likely to ‘check out’ and evaluate the attractiveness of the organisation through its online presence. Therefore it is prudent to ensure the organisation website contains clear information on eligibility, intake, and services provided. In order to reduce anxiety for potential clients and their caregivers, it can be useful to have further details about the service on sites such as YouTube. This provides a unique opportunity for potential clients to ‘see’ what the service looks like and what to expect.

Videos may include a walk-through of residential services or workers explaining how to access the service and the programs available. It is also worth addressing a video to parents / caregivers.

Organisations should also have a Facebook page where special events etc. can be promoted. However it is important that this page, or any other social media presence, has a clear purpose and is consistently monitored and maintained or else it will be unreliable to potential clients.

Finally, clients who complete their business with a service may require further assistance in future. It is essential that they understand that the service can be accessed again. Even knowing that a reliable service or practitioner can be accessed when the going gets tough can add to a young person’s sense of security and young people have been shown to draw on their experiences much further down the track, long after formal contact has ceased (Bruun, 2006).