BENDIGO teenagers are drinking more alcohol than any other teenagers in the state, according to a state government report.
About two thirds – 62.8 per cent – of 15 to 17-year-olds surveyed in the Loddon Mallee region said they had drunk alcohol in the past 30 days.
Of those teenagers, almost a quarter – 23.4 per cent – were binge drinking more than five standard drinks every time they drank.
Welfare agency St Luke’s, which helped the government prepare The State of Bendigo’s Children report, said it was alarming that Bendigo had the highest rate of under-age drinking.
Chief executive David Pugh said alcohol and drug abuse among the young was a growing concern for the broader Bendigo community.
“We have young people coming in developing drinking problems at the age of 12 to 14,” he said.
“It’s a societal issue, and it’s clear we have some really strange attitudes in our community.
“We have schools that will present year 10 graduates with a wine glass. Parents go to their kids’ events with Eskies full of alcohol.
“We are giving young people pretty strong messages that you can’t celebrate without drinking.”
Mr Pugh said drinking problems were often associated with other social issues.
“They’re major areas of concern of why young people’s lives can start to go off the rails.
“It puts them at risk of dropping out of school or becoming homeless... often alcohol abuse can precipitate mental health issues.”
Among the key findings of the state government’s report were that youths in the Loddon Mallee region, including Bendigo, Castlemaine, Echuca, Gisborne, Kerang, Kyneton, Maryborough, Mildura and Swan Hill were more disadvantaged than other parts of the state and more likely to turn to alcohol, drugs and crime.
The Loddon Mallee region had the highest percentage of young people sniffing glue or chroming, with 10.5 per cent of all teenagers. During the past six years, the Loddon Mallee has also recorded the highest teenage birth rate.
Bendigo police Sergeant Jason Hawke said registration of house parties as well as increased patrols of nightclubs and ID checks had helped police curb the issue of under-age drinking.
But he said there was still a high rate of youths committing crimes.
“It depends on each individual case but alcohol abuse and binge drinking does contribute to a lot of crimes,” he said.
The statewide report found there were large disparities between children in rural and regional, and metropolitan communities in areas of childhood development and learning, child abuse, alcohol use, sexual health, involvement in crime, and engagement with and achievement at school.
According to analysis, it found this was due to a “complex range of inter-linked factors”, including socioeconomic disadvantage, family risk factors and local service access issues.
Minister for Early Childhood Development Wendy Lovell said rural and regional teenagers continued to face a range of social challenges that were affecting their health, wellbeing, learning and development.
She said the figures and analysis would help guide future policy development to address these concerns.
Youth affairs council of Victoria chief executive Kate Colvin said “higher risks of disadvantage must be addressed”.
“Growing up in a rural community should be a positive experience for a young person, not a source of disadvantage,” she said.