Alcohol and drug report findings linked to hardship

HEALTH services in Bendigo say they’re not surprised teenagers from difficult social and economic backgrounds were battling issues with drugs and alcohol.

A state government report that showed Bendigo had the highest rate of underage drinking in the state painted a picture of disconnect from education and increasing absence rates when regional students get to high school.

The State of Victoria’s Children report found levels of student motivation, school enjoyment and interest in classes were all slightly lower for secondary school students in rural and regional areas.

Bendigo Community Health Services chief executive Kim Sykes said there was a concerning rate of vulnerable members of the community finding it difficult to keep their education, and lives, on track.

She said the issue of underage drinking was often the start of broader concerns.

“It flows on to so many things,” she said. “For young people, at very early ages, it can cause them to disengage further from family or end up not attending school which ends up having a big impact on their education and employment options. It also has a direct correlation on their health as well.”

According to the report the Loddon Mallee region had the highest percentage of children with families reporting financial hardship.

Ms Sykes said economic and social circumstances often compounded the problem. 

“There’s often very real and substantial issues of why people start drinking in the first place,” she said. “We generally find that those issues don’t sit there in isolation.”

The report showed that students who finished year 12 in rural and regional Victoria made fewer transitions to bachelor degrees and to upper level vocational training than metropolitan year 12 completers. 

But it also found early leavers from rural and regional Victoria make more positive transitions than those in metropolitan Victoria, with higher percentages in further education and training and lower percentages not working.

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