There are 12 interrelated aspects of effective engaging. Each aspect is informed by particular therapeutic practice elements. Where no therapeutic practice elements are identified, practice wisdom and expert consultation has been applied.
1: Proactive pre-service promotion
The engagement of eligible 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.
2: Safe, welcoming and inclusive environments
Young people have been shown to prefer attractive, youth-friendly spaces in accessible central locations. Overly clinical settings and cumbersome intake and assessment processes can be experienced by young people and families as impersonal and can act as a barrier to engagement.
3: A flexible and responsive approach
Practitioners and agencies with the capacity to shape their service response to the specific needs of young people and families have greater potential to engage them effectively.
4: Who you are and how you present matters
Effective youth AOD practitioners are able to position themselves alongside young people so as to better understand the complexity of their experience and the influence of risk and protective factors in their lives. In this sense AOD practitioners become “inside outsiders” (Ungar 2005) who demonstrate a respect and openness to working from where a young person is at.
5: Communication Style
Clients need to trust in the integrity of both practitioner and agency for them to be open and honest about their experience.
6: Orientation and ground rules
Orientation underpins all efforts to engage young people.
7: A practical and useful response
An effective way to build a reputation as a reliable and credible source of support and assistance is to provide practical and useful responses to young people’s most pressing needs.
8: Building a collaborative relationship
Building a collaborative relationship with a young person is in a sense the purpose of engaging. To do so it is essential to work from where the young person is at and understand that they often come to services with preconceptions that influence their willingness to engage.
9: Energy and creativity
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. Services based only on identifying and “fixing” problems are likely to miss key opportunities to engage and retain clients, particularly those who are younger
10: Provide meaningful incentives for engaging
Meaningful incentives for engagement can reinforce a young person’s connection with a service and interest in participating.
11: Involve families and significant others
Where it is appropriate, family involvement has been found to enhance youth engagement in AOD treatment, primary health care and prevention programs. Advocates of family involvement acknowledge that it may be difficult or unhelpful if family members are themselves involved in substance use or criminal activities. Also some families may be unavailable or unwilling to participate .
12: Engaging clients under coercion
Many clients of youth AOD services first attend under coercion from either family members, guardians (statutory or otherwise) and/or the justice system. In fact, approximately one third of clients in youth AOD services first attend under coercion from the justice system. While some of these young people may appreciate the opportunity to access AOD services, many will have no desire or motivation to change their AOD use and practitioners are likely to encounter resistance.