Young people in the early and middle adolescent stages are legally considered to be minors. This requires adults in professional roles to be mindful of threats to their safety, health and ongoing development. This requires suitable, developmentally attuned risk assessment processes and relevant policies pertaining to engaging the tertiary service system.
A tension that arises for youth AOD services concerns balancing a commitment to self-determination (a key value in client-centred practice), with a young person’s right and need to be protected. The individual’s level of maturity needs to be considered when making choices such as encouraging independent decision-making versus setting limits. This balance is particularly pertinent to harm reduction in relation to substance use.
The positioning of outreach workers in the lives of clients allows for ‘unobtrusive monitoring’ (Aronowitz, 2005) whereby exposure to risk and capacity for adaptive coping can be identified and responded to. This has been shown to have a strong protective effect (Aronowitz, 2005).
Adolescent clients are expected to be sensitive about their privacy. As such, clients need to be made aware that the service respects their right to confidentiality. Information held should only be released with client consent. The only exception would be when the health and safety of clients or others would be comprised should relevant information be withheld. (see Engaging)
As young people move through middle into the late adolescent stage, both socially and legally there is greater expectation for them to care for themselves. While health and social care services retain a duty of care, there are differences in how duty of care is structured for younger compared to older clients.