Module 11: young people and drugs - issues for workers: facilitator's guide

6.2 Duty of care, the law and young people

Page last updated: 2004

Young people who use illicit drugs are obviously taking risks with their health and wellbeing and we need to think carefully about their interests. We have an obligation to tell young people about the effects of a particular drug. We have a duty of care to educate young people about 'safer' use and harm minimisation.

Sometimes we are faced with situations where there is conflict between protecting people from harm and impinging on their rights. We need to make judgments about how important these rights are to our clients. For example, if a young person tells us about their drug use in confidence, do we have an obligation to tell other workers or their parents?

Young people with drug and alcohol issues will also want to talk about other areas of their life such as their relationships with family and friends. Young people expect the worker to maintain confidentiality about these discussions.

Sometimes the law requires that we break the confidentiality of clients. In these circumstances, we should always tell the client that this is going to happen.

The law and young people

There are a number of laws which impact on young people.

Brainstorm exercise

Question - What laws impact on the lives of young people?

  • The age of consent
  • The sale of alcohol and cigarettes to young people
  • The sale and possession of illicit drugs
  • The requirement for young people to attend school
  • The safety and protection of young people
Laws may vary from state to state. They can also change very quickly.
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For example, in NSW the age of consent for sexual activity is 16 years for girls. For boys, the age of consent for heterosexual sex is 16 and for homosexual sex is 18.

In NSW The Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 requires all community services and health workers to contact their Community Services Department if they have concerns for the safety, welfare or well being of a child. The Act differentiates between children (under 16) and young people (16-17 years). This is an important distinction to make, as it recognises that older adolescents may be physically and emotionally mature and heading towards financial and social independence.

In most states, you must let your Community Services Department know if you suspect that a child is being physically, emotionally or sexually abused. Mandatory reporting means that you don't have a choice. The law says you must make a report. You may report a young person if you think they are at risk, but you won't be penalised if you choose not to. You can use your discretion.