IT’S a place that is many things to many young people.
For some, South Gippsland Hospital’s Youth Assist Clinic is a place to enjoy the fruit that it is not available at home. For others, it’s a place to seek reprieve from sleeping rough.
For others, it may simply be a place to talk to a doctor about a persistent medical complaint.
The clinic, open to people from the ages of 10 to 25, ensures those kids who need help can get it – free of judgement, stigma or embarrassment.
One thing is emphasised over and again by Director of Community Health Samantha Park, Adolescent Health Nurse Bonnie Patterson and volunteers Jenni Munro and Dot Divine: every young person is welcome.
“The basis of the model was all about access, because that was always the real barrier. Even though we had health services in the area and the region, for adultescents they were difficult to access,” Sam said.
The problem was exacerbated, she said, by being in a small town – a place where you may know the receptionist, people in the waiting room and others. Often, too, clinics will operate during school times or when students are taking busses home.
“So, often, there was no way they could independently access health care services. We’ve always had this model as a drop-in service, so you don’t have to make an appointment. It makes it a place where everyone is eligible to attend,” Sam said.
YAC has always been a community concern, backed by businesses, medicos, volunteers and a host of others.
The idea for the clinic first took root in 2011, in response to a government decision to dismantle the ‘nurses in schools’ program. The plan, as it stood, was to take nurses out of schools – having them visit schools on a needs-only basis.
“The school flagged that with us and we put together a little consultation group and steering committee, with some of the local young people and interested parties, including a local doctor, staff from South Gippsland Hospital, a local parish priest, and young people from the school,” Sam explained.
Ahead of the establishment of the clinic in 2012, a funding submission was put together, with an approach made to the Bendigo Bank to supply a “seeding grant”. The bank obliged, with the clinic opening in February 2012.
Bonnie said a collaborative model had been established between the clinic, the school, South Gippsland Hospital, Foster Medical Clinic and other agencies like Youth Support and Advocacy Service (YSAS). HeadSpace will also be an “add on” to the clinic in the near future, Bonnie said.
“The Foster Medical Centre has been a great support and has always provided a GP and Mental Health Nurse support,” Bonnie said.
Sam said the clinic’s support had been “integral” to the success of the program.
“It means that young people at times get to see a very senior GP from the clinic. They’ve been fantastic. They haven’t just helped the young people utilising this service, they’ve gone into the schools providing education in the schools as well,” Bonnie said.
And what are the particular challenges facing young people in rural areas?
“I think, broadly, if we reviewed our data, most of clients to the youth clinic would be concerned with mental health, sexual health and then physical health,” she said.
“It’s probably not too dissimilar to an adult demographic really. For some people it’s just the physical complaint of a rash or a sprained foot or whatever and for others it’s a lot more complex. Some people may have quite complex mental health needs.
“Most young people who come here are of a mature mind and are taking control of their own health by accessing the service.”
Primary school children who visit the centre are accompanied by parents or a welfare officer.
While a good many of the clinic’s clients may come to talk about their sexual, mental or physical health, others come to have a good feed – with a fresh supply of fruit generously donated by IGA and Aherns Fruit Market.
Volunteer Jenni Munro said the businesses had been “quite willing to donate whatever we need”. Dot Divine is the other volunteer at the clinic.
For Bonnie, their support is invaluable: “They’ve been amazing.”
“Jenni saw that food was a real need and she’s initiated the supply of fresh fruit to the kids who drop in. She’s had a lot of support too from Manna Gum Community House and the Food Bank,” she said.
“Dot’s been amazing. Her and her friends have put together pamper packs.”
Dot said toiletries were among the things most of us took for granted.
“They’re the things that go off the shopping list first when you’ve got no money. We get lots of donations of hygiene packs and things like that,” she said.
“We have to tell them to go sometimes, because they’re so relaxed. We often have games and big pieces of paper for them to draw on. It’s very comfortable.”
“The kids know they’re safe here. They know they won’t be talked about and there won’t be any stigma to them being here – because everyone’s in the same boat,” she said.
“We’ve got kids who will come here and sit down and eat a whole plate of fruit, obviously because they need it. It’s a little bit sad, but you know you’re helping them.”