Services can become more accessible, engaging and effective by recognising the energy, creativity, experience and other strengths of young people and build in constructive youth participation (Barry et al., 2002; Bell, 2006; Ensign & Gittlelsohn, 1998; Munford & Sanders, 2008). Services based only on identifying and “fixing” problems are likely to miss key opportunities to engage and retain clients, particularly those who are younger.

Recent Victorian research found that young people engaged with AOD services valued meaningful, fun activities that enable them to express and define themselves (McClean et al, 2009). This study revealed that, in particular, the youth AOD clients between the ages of 12 and 16 that were interviewed presented as optimistic and energetic and reported that they were easily bored. These young people preferred to be active.

Activity, where it is appropriate and an option, is an excellent vehicle for engaging as it is experiential and doesn’t require a constant verbal exchange with a practitioner. Rather it offers the practitioner opportunities to recognise qualities and strengths in young people. It can humanise the practitioner, but of course professional boundaries still need to be maintained.

Similarly, a greater focus on youth participation invites clients to develop and contribute solutions to their problems and possibly the problems of others.