A MOTHER says her "year from hell" has exposed gaps in systems that should prevent young people falling into drug addiction and crime.
Mandy* has shared her story in the hope it will stop someone else's family experiencing the same systematic failures hers has faced.
The central Victorian woman said she understood that many who read her story would wonder: "Where were the parents?"
But Mandy said she was there, desperately trying to get help as her sons' lives spiralled out of control.
She wanted to draw attention to shortcomings that compounded problems, she said, and made it impossible for her, teachers, police or child protection authorities to take effective action once drug addictions took hold.
She also said she wanted Victoria to bring in mandatory treatment options for teenagers at specialist facilities.
"It doesn't make sense to me that we don't have that," Mandy said.
Instead her boys could leave at any time, she said, making it impossible for anyone to give them the time needed to detox and make considered and rational decisions about treatment.
It also meant they lacked the opportunity to safely explore the history of trauma and mental health challenges that contributed to their addictions, she said.
"All I saw was the decline in my children's ability to self regulate, to comply, and even to have human decency and respect," Mandy said.
'Urgent legislation' needed: 2021 policy paper
Mandy said she spent 2020 trying to get help, regularly reporting when her sons broke curfews or were hanging out with people they were not supposed to.
Her efforts proved ineffective, she said, with COVID-19 lockdowns meaning face-to-face therapy was replaced with remote meetings that her sons were able to avoid.
One lawyer who spoke to the Bendigo Advertiser said Mandy and her family's plight was not the exception to the rule when it came to managing teenagers once drug addictions set in.
"The system doesn't work for adolescents. It's as simple as that," the lawyer said.
Authorities could put teenagers already in child protection - and deemed to be "at substantial risk" of harm - into facilities for a maximum of three weeks.
Other state drug and alcohol treatments were voluntary and teenagers could leave at any time.
Mandy said she wanted mandatory treatment options that were signed off by caregivers and ran for several months, in order to give teens breathing space to reckon with their problems.
Last February, the state government accepted all recommendations of a wide-ranging royal commission that found the health system had "catastrophically failed" to live up to expectations, and was under-prepared for current and future challenges.
The royal commission did not recommend mandatory treatment options in its reform recommendations.
But a separate researcher used a 2014 Churchill Fellowship to visit Sweden and New Zealand facilities to see how they could work.
The researcher found overwhelming support from practitioners and young people in those programs, and recently used a policy position paper to call for "urgent legislation" allowing court orders that were "reasonable, proportionate and necessary for young people with significant substance use and mental health issues".
Meanwhile the government is building a 20-bed youth-specific residential facility in Traralgon to relieve health services as demand rises, a Department of Health spokesperson said.
"The new Traralgon facility will be completed this year, providing support to young Victorians to address underlying issues leading to their alcohol and other drug use and help them to re-enter the community," they said.
The lawyer said they would like to see more treatment options that take young people away from the problems that fuel their addictions.
"If you want someone to dry out from drugs, don't put them back on the same street as their dealer. Stick them in the middle of a paddock, it works a treat," they said.
They recommended governments look at the Baroona Healing Centre's six-bed facility headquartered in Echuca that runs a 16-week program for teenagers.
"The boys that go out there must be there for four months and in that time they have a schooling program, exercise program," the lawyer said.
They also get one-on-one contact with specialists helping them understand not only understand their addiction, but what kind of young men and women they want to be, they said.
* The Bendigo Advertiser cannot publish the central Victorian mother' and lawyer's real name for legal reasons.
Young people or their families who have a query about alcohol or drug use can contact DirectLline, 24 hours, 7 days a week on 1800 888 236. The Family Drug Helpline is also available on 1300 660 068.
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