Teenagers in Victoria's south-west are abusing drugs and alcohol and engaging in risky sex at the state’s highest rates.
The state government report paints a disturbing picture with the Barwon South West region reporting the highest percentage of young people aged 12 to 14 who had drank alcohol in the last 30 days.
The region takes in Greater Geelong, Warrnambool, Surf Coast, Colac-Otway, Corangamite, Moyne, Queenscliffe, Southern Grampians and Glenelg local government areas.
The highest percentage among 15-17 year olds who drank in the last 30 days was in Loddon Mallee with 62.8 per cent and Barwon South West with 62.4 per cent.
Barwon South West also had the highest level of reported binge drinking across the state at 26.7 per cent.
The report, The State of Victoria’s Children, shows the teenage birth rate is two times higher for young women aged 15-19 years in rural Victoria. Among people aged 15-17, those in Barwon South West and the Grampians regions are the most likely to have had sexual intercourse.
The highest rates of sexually transmitted infections are in the Barwon South West region and across the state the highest and fastest growing rates are for chlamydia.
Brophy Family and Youth Services chief executive officer Francis Broekman said the report reflected what his organisation had seen in the past 10 years and it showed areas where there needed to be big improvements.
He said it was clear there needed to be greater linkages to school engagement and meaningful school curriculums. For some people it was a generational issue, he said, with many families not having a great experience at school.
Mr Broekman said it was clear that alcohol use was a key issue, which needed to be addressed, and more work directed at teen pregnancy.
“On the other hand, it does show that kids in a rural setting make stronger connections with their community and that their communities are more caring,” he said. “Rural communities are more likely to give kids a second chance.”
There were positives for the region which recorded the highest attainment rate for years 12s with 76.8 per cent in rural Victoria.
The region also had the lowest percentage of children aged 15-12 who had never been to a dentist at 3.3 per cent and it had the lowest percentage of children experiencing high levels of family stress at 11 per cent.The report states that while the majority of children and young people in rural and regional Victoria are faring well, there are clear disparities in health, well-being, safety and learning and development outcomes between rural and regional children and young people and their metropolitan counterparts.
Youth Affairs Council of Victoria chief executive Kate Colvin said the report was a powerful reminder of the work that had to be done to ensure that all young Victorians had access to a strong standard of health, education and well-being. “Growing up in a rural community should be a positive experience for a young person, not a source of disadvantage,” she said.