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Our story

YSAS Youth Workers in the 1990s

Since 1998, we’ve been walking beside young people and families as they work towards improving mental health and reducing both substance use-related harm, and unwanted involvement with the criminal justice system. We do this with a deep commitment to creating the conditions in which young people and their support networks can overcome, and even be strengthened by, adversity.

We have grown to become one of Australia’s largest youth-specific community service organisations, employing over 400 skilled staff to run our services throughout Victoria. We support over 5,000 young people and families each year and since inception, we have touched the lives of more than 100,000 young people and families through our youth alcohol and other drugs, mental health and criminal justice programs.

Our history

In the early to mid-1990s Melbourne and some regional Victorian communities were hit by a heroin epidemic that tragically claimed many lives due to fatal overdose. As a consequence, in 1995 Premier Jeff Kennett established a Drug Advisory Council, chaired by the late Professor David Pennington, to enquire into how Victoria can best respond to illicit substance use and associated harms.  

The Premier’s Drug Advisory Council found adult focused alcohol and other drug treatment in Victoria to be inaccessible, ineffective and potentially unsafe for young people aged up to 21 years of age. This was subsequently confirmed by the Victorian Drug Policy Expert Committee who warned that placing young people in a drug treatment service targeted at adults can have a detrimental effect and put them at risk.

Based on expert testimony and an extensive review of available evidence, the Premier’s Drug Advisory Council made 31 recommendations — one of which was to establish a youth-specific, developmentally appropriate, alcohol and other drug (AOD) service system in Victoria for children and young people who require specialist treatment and support.

The Youth Substance Abuse Service (now YSAS) was established in late 1997 as Victoria’s flagship Youth AOD Service, with a focus on proactively engaging and supporting young people and families through outreach and residential care. 

The first alcohol and other drug (AOD) outreach teams were established by YSAS across Metropolitan Melbourne, in Bendigo and the Latrobe Valley in 1998 —  first YSAS outreach youth workers took to the streets in February of that year. YSAS continues to operate a range of outreach services from our community based sites that are designed specifically to meet the needs of young people who are, or who are at risk of, experiencing substance use related harm, difficulties with mental health and criminal justice system involvement.

In the ensuing years, the YSAS offering included accessible primary health care services to young people as well as opportunities for pro-social activity through involvement in open access day programs. Our expertise, in providing effective primary health care for young people experiencing disadvantage was recognised in 2013, when YSAS was granted the contract, that we still hold, to provide medical care and nursing services for young people in Victoria’s Secure Care Services.

In 1999, YSAS established Australia’s fist Youth Residential Withdrawal Service on Gertrude Street, YSAS Fitzroy Residential Withdrawal that is still growing strong today. By 2003, YSAS had established two more Youth Residential Withdrawal Services in Glen Iris and Geelong, a supported accommodation in Melbourne’s north west called Wilum and a 15 bed Youth Residential Rehabilitation Service in Eltham. All of our Residential Services continue to provide excellent service for young people who need more intensive support with recent merger of YSAS Glen Iris and Geelong services in 2023.

YSAS was honoured in 2008 to be invited by the Ngwala Willumbong Aboriginal Corporation to partner in establishing a ‘Koori Youth AOD Healing Service’. This was another Victorian first and the precursor for the nationally recognised Bunjilwarra Koori Youth Alcohol and Drug Healing Service run today by the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service in partnership with YSAS.

In 2009, YSAS became the Youth Support and Advocacy Service in recognition that we put young people and their many strengths first, not the problems they encounter. This is reflected by our work at this time with a number of partner organisations to establish headspace Frankston and then headspace Collingwood. Our headspace centres continue to thrive, allowing us to establish accessible GP clinics and a range of initiatives and service offerings like Bounceback, Peninsula Pride and the Doctors in Schools program to promote connection and better mental health and well being for local young people.

During this period, YSAS also established the Youth Support Service (YSS) to engage at-risk young people aged between 10 and 18 who have had police involvement to address the risk factors that lead to criminal involvement, and create the conditions for positive development and better life outcomes. The ongoing success of YSS enabled us to establish other effective crime prevention services that we run, like Pivot Youth Crime Prevention Program with partners in Melbourne’s south east and the Embedded Youth Outreach Program in partnership with Victoria Police in Dandenong and Werribee.

All the way throughout our journey, YSAS has invested in research and practice development to drive innovation and develop more effective approaches for young people and families that better align with their needs and preferences. Our commitment to research and sharing our learnings through a range of professional development programs and resources, and public policy advocacy remains as strong as ever.

We have relied on many dedicated YSAS Board Directors and workers, all with an unwavering commitment to social justice as well as major contributions from our many organisational partners. We thank the many Victorian State Government departments and federally funded Primary Health Services who with philanthropic organisations and donors have invested in our purpose. Also, a special shout out to all febfasters since 2005 who have donated to our cause.   

Finally and most significantly, YSAS has been made vital over many years by the contribution of young people, families and supporters with lived and lived experience who participate in every aspect of our organisations life. What’s most pleasing is that this contribution continues to grow more meaningful and far reaching as we evolve.

Our vision

“To create a community where all young people are valued, included and have every opportunity to thrive.”

To thrive, young people require the space and support to learn how to meet their needs and adapt to overcome the challenges that arise as they develop.

Success in navigating the transition to adulthood is determined not only by a young person’s motivation and emerging capabilities, but also the capacity of their family, community and culture to provide meaningful guidance and vital resources when they are needed most – and that’s where YSAS practitioners come in – to build the resources and opportunities of young people and their families.

We exist to support young Victorians and their families to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

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