Many youth AOD clients present with behaviours that members of the community, and service providers, generally experience as highly challenging. These can range from overt violence and aggression that threatens the personal safety of others, property crime that young people find necessary for survival or maintenance of their drug use, behaviours that appear self-harming, or lifestyle ‘choices’ based on values that are personally unacceptable to members of wider society. For many clients, these types of behaviours have contributed to periods of involvement in the youth justice system, and they may continue to make it difficult for young people to engage effectively with mainstream social institutions. As a result clients who present with these behaviours are often denied access to needed health and welfare resources, or fail to establish adequate engagement, limiting the ability of the young person to benefit from services offered.

Clients who engage in illegal activities such as illicit drug use and who have been involved with the justice system are usually acutely aware of the judgements placed upon them by society. One of the first steps in engaging these young people in a trusting helping relationship is to demonstrate that the kinds of judgements applied to them previously will not be applied. Practitioners are encouraged to be aware of their own personal values, how these might influence their perceptions of, and behaviours towards clients, and to minimise expression of judgements that will not be helpful for the client. Rather than adopting a moral stance, the emphasis is on pursuit of health and wellbeing for the young person.

This does not mean that no judgements are applied. Judgements are regularly made to guide the direction of assessment and to formulate appropriate responses. Certain forms of behaviour will not be tolerated in services. These are behaviours that are judged to be harmful to others including staff and other clients, or behaviours that impinge on the human rights of others.

Two features are critically important in the exercise of such judgements in the context of acceptance and respect. One, is making a clear distinction between the person and their behaviour. Two, is not forcing young people to change to receive a service.

Services provide relationships and environments designed to encourage and support change, but clients make their own decisions what changes they want to make. The intention is to prepare young people to take responsibility for their own lives. Even younger clients who are less developmentally ready (like mature minors) a shift towards encouragement of greater autonomy is appropriate – indeed necessary – as young people make the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Youth AOD services have a small role in facilitation of this transition.