It is imperative for youth AOD organisations and practitioners to continue to learn and evolve in response to changes in patterns of drug and alcohol use among young people, and in the diversity and complexity of needs presented by clients.

To create a climate that is conducive to continuous learning and improvement, organisations need to develop a culture that:

  • Embraces critical reflection on performance without seeking to attribute blame or cover up difficult issues
  • Involves staff at all levels, as much as possible in problem-solving decision-making processes
  • Demonstrates an openness and willingness to experiment with new ideas and take calculated risks.

This culture is most likely to be engendered in organizations that are secure and by staff members who believe that their contribution is both valued and can make a difference. 

Healthy and successful organizations create environments of safety and trust in which staff feel enabled and supported to ask questions, raise concerns and express opinions that may be different from those held by others and challenge each other to both improve and live out the organisations values.

Organisations that invest in clearly articulating and documenting their practice approach and service model in a way that is easily communicated and lends itself to evaluation are best positioned to learn and evolve.

Mechanisms that can support learning and the evolution of the organisations, services and practitioners (including for casual staff), include:

  • Bi-directional relationships with with peak bodies and research institutes
  • A system for reviewing literature and current evidence pertaining to specific program areas or the needs and characteristics of clients
  • Formal adherence to a quality assurance framework
  • Well developed risk management systems
  • Routine incident reporting and review 
  • A system for analysis and reporting on organisational data
  • Well targeted workforce development initiatives that are informed by consultation and critical reflection on performance. This includes strategies for managers, reception staff and practitioners will varying degrees of knowledge and experience.
  • A systematic approach to supervision
  • Structured opportunities for reflective practice such as regular seminars, case reviews and/or case conferences with workers from various agencies involved with young people
  • Formal mechanisms for facilitating the participation of young people who are clients in a variety of consultative and/or decision making activities.

The National Youth Participation Strategy in Mental Health Scoping Project Report (2008) demonstrates that meaningful input for young people who are clients improves health care and leads to health services that are more accessible and efficient.  Clients are seen as a source of “unique expertise” with a “lived experience” that is often an “untapped resource”. Middendorp (2012) challenges organisations and practitioners view clients who are living rough and experiencing mental health and drug and alcohol problems in this way as they are a source of rich information and much can be learned from them. These insights can be shared with policy makers for the improvement of service systems more generally.