Beck Miles has used her passion for supporting people and some newly learned research skills to complete a study highlighting the needs of the area’s youth in relation to drugs and alcohol. Beck is now well on her way to realising her dream of a career in social work …
Tell us a bit about yourself …
I am a single parent with 3 children: 14, 10 and 4. I have always had an interest in supporting people. I became a Lifeline telephone counsellor in my early 20s. From this experience, I then went on to complete other general counselling courses.
In 2002, as an interested parent who felt challenged by the hurdles of parenting, I was given the opportunity to co-facilitate the P5 Parenting Program through C.A.R.E Parent Support Program, Byron Shire Council.
The P5 Program, written by NZ Psychologist, Kate Birch, was brought into Australia through Nambour Community, and P5 Australia was founded. The interest in the P5 Program spread organically throughout communities, particularly due to interest of organisations looking for a parenting program which empowered parents rather than a lectured style, behavioural management program. (www.p5australia.com.au)
At the time I became involved, P5 Australia had been run down, as it relied on passion for its continuing growth. As I was newly involved in the program, passionate and energetic, Kate Birch offered me the Australian Rights of the P5 Program.
With limited resources, I began to share the word of P5. Throughout this time P5 Australia has grown from only a handful of official users of the program to now over 60 reputable organisations, many of whom are Government Initiative Programs.
When I moved into the Hastings area, I became aware that there were no regular parenting programs being offered in the area that the P5 program could offer families. I began to deliver the program in a variety of areas, with great interest and success.
While I have developed a high level of skills working with families, I did not have the appropriate qualifications to enable me to get work in the welfare industry. I became aware of the need to continue to update my skills and gain qualifications, which would provide me further career opportunities.
Going back to study, after such a break, can be quite overwhelming. TAFE provided a stepping stone and great networking opportunities. I was able to enhance my skills and develop P5 Australia further.
What did you study at TAFE last year?
I attended Port Macquarie TAFE, completing the Diploma of Community Services.
What was the major study you had to organise as a part of your course’s assessment?
Students were asked to develop a research project which would support and benefit a local agency. Through my work placement with Drug and Alcohol services, I was very excited to have the opportunity to support a local network group known as Hastings Community Drug Action Team (HCDAT).
In 2002, HCDAT engaged local schools by undertaking a small survey with Year 9 high school students throughout the Hastings District. A follow up survey, 12 months later, provided a comparative study. Up until that time, no further surveys at a local level had been implemented. North Coast Area Health, Drug & Alcohol services, Port Macquarie gained funding to initiate a revised survey and offered me the opportunity to develop it.
My research questions were aimed to determine: what is the perception among young people and their peers towards drug and alcohol issues in the Hastings District community?
The aim of this study was to ascertain current attitudes and perceptions on drug and alcohol issues among Year 9 students enrolled in public and private schools in the Hastings District – with the hope of gaining an accurate understanding and to recommend suitable support mechanisms in key areas that were identified. The Hastings Community Drug Action Team’s (HCDAT) goal is to make the community stronger and healthier, by developing responses to local problems.
Students participated through an online survey, which approximately 370 students completed. Overall, participant responses appeared to be valid and reliable and match previous survey results, as well as current statistically information available on drug and alcohol issues.
What were some of the findings from your study?
The findings of this study indicate that 81% of young people surveyed consider experimentation with alcohol or illicit drugs first begins at age 14 -16 years of age.
Peer group pressure represents the most significant rating at 68% as to why young people experiment.
The overall percentage from the top three as to the most popular substance to experiment included: alcohol as the most likely at 90%, followed by tobacco at 82% and cannabis at 76%.
In considering whether drug education supports making better choices, 239 out of 359 responded yes, whereas 169 out of 359 answered no or unsure.
What findings actually concerned you the most?
The most significant information that came out of the findings was that participants consider there are limitations towards knowledge of access to support and knowledge of what support is available. The majority of young people (84%) do not know or were unsure where to access local support. Eighty-eight percent of participants considered that the Hastings District either does not offer or were unsure if the area offers adequate support.
What is more significant is 66% of respondents considered that if services were available at no cost, that they would be likely or highly likely to access services.
A highlight of the results was that participants considered drug and alcohol support directly within the school system as the most significant support option, rating at 74%. Currently there are huge limitations to youth support in the area of drug and alcohol issues, which ties so closely with mental health issues.
How do you plan to use what you’ve found to help those less fortunate?
The final report will be delivered to all schools who were involved, HCDAT, Drug and Alcohol services and Youth Mental Health. In the final report, some recommendations have been made.
1. Engagement with young people: provide confidential avenues to engage young people in the school environment with skilled professionals on drug and alcohol specific concerns. This could include offering support groups for young people experiencing drug and alcohol issues.
2. Access to information: provide information packages to students, which include local service contact details and drug and alcohol information brochures.
3. Early intervention / prevention strategies: increase pathways of communication and support on drug and alcohol specific concerns between local services and local schools. This would include providing drug and alcohol counselling services at individual schools and funding a Youth Liaison position to provide relevant support, provide information and referrals.
4. HCDAT to increase community / school events (drug and alcohol focused) throughout the Hastings District, with the aim of using peer pressure in a constructive way by promoting healthy living choices.
It would be wonderful to see some of these recommendations take place, and in particular providing a youth support worker directly into the schools (which I would definitely put my hand up for).
What has the whole process of completing your TAFE course meant to you personally?
Completing the Diploma has given me the confidence to continue my study and know that I can achieve well even as a mature age student. As a single parent you can become isolated, particularly being new to the area with no family or friends. During my study at TAFE, I have made some lifelong friends, who provided lots of support and encouragement.
I feel that the results I have achieved may encourage other mums to go back and study. I want to say “that it is never too late”. I now have the ‘paper work’ to acknowledge my abilities, which opens the door up for many more opportunities. I am passionate about supporting people and am looking forward to what doors open for me.
What are your plans for the future?
I aim to continue my studies through Charles Sturt University, to complete a Bachelor of Social Work. I also aim to continue my work with P5 Australia in developing further programs. There is an opportunity to develop the Parenting Teenagers program, also written by Kate Birch. P5 Australia has yet to gain any funding to support its development, even though it is considered as of equal value to the other well known parenting program (Triple P), which has gained multi millions of funding. I have also been told that DOCs recommend P5 to their clientele.
Funding is the biggest restriction to developing P5 further at this point. There is no program in the area for parents to attend for parenting teenagers. With the skills and knowledge I have gained through completing the Diploma and through understanding drug and alcohol issues for young people, I aim to seek funding to further support for families and young people.
Thank you Beck.
For more info about Beck’s research results or the P5 Program, email
Interview by Jo Atkins.