Module 5: young people, society and AOD: learner's workbook

7.4 Legislation that impacts on work with young people

Page last updated: 2004

Areas covered by legislation
Laws regulating drugs
Mandatory reporting
Confidentiality and privacy legislation
Duty of care
Occupational health and safety (OH&S)
Distance learners

Areas covered by legislation

Many laws impact on our work with young people. These include laws regulating:
drugs – legal or illegal status
  • mandatory reporting – if you suspect that a child is being physically, emotionally or sexually abused
  • confidentiality and privacy legislation – to protect the confidentiality of young people
  • duty of care – to reduce or limit the amount of harm or injury to your clients
  • OH&S – ensures workers operate in a safe environment to prevent injuries or hazards in the workplace.

Laws regulating drugs

All drugs are regulated to some extent by laws, which can have particular ramifications for young people.

Drug-related laws act as a form of control of drug use and comprise an important part of the harm minimisation approach (in terms of demand reduction and supply control). Psycho-active drugs have legal, illegal or restricted status. In some instances, however, certain substances are illegal for certain people (alcohol for anyone under the age of 18), or in certain places.

Cannabis as a case study

Workplace learning/writing exercise

Question - The laws relating to cannabis vary from state or state. Find out about the cannabis laws in your state, and summarise the key points. The internet is useful for finding current information. Top of page

Mandatory reporting

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.

Some states (e.g. New South Wales) requires that criminal record checks are undertaken on people who wish to work with children and young people.

Confidentiality and privacy legislation

The law generally requires workers to protect the confidential information of their clients. There are certain laws that strengthen clients' protection. For example, the Commonwealth Privacy Act 1988 and the Privacy and Personal Information Act 1998 (NSW) state that an individual's personal and family history cannot be divulged to other organisations without their consent and that these records must be kept in a secure place.

The Freedom Of Information Act 1982 states that young people have the right to request access to their personal records. Workers should be careful to be accurate and concise in their client records and avoid recording their assumptions about clients or opinions that are not based on evidence.

Duty of care

As a worker, you have a legal and moral responsibility to keep your clients safe from harm while they are using a service. This responsibility is known as 'duty of care'.

Workers' responsibility to reduce or limit any harm or injury can sometimes seem overwhelming. For example, your responsibility to one party (for example, your employer) might conflict deeply with your responsibility to your clients. It helps to remember that duty of care is a balancing act.

Sources of harm

Task - writing exercise

Question - Suggest some ways in which a young person might come to harm in your organisation?

Answer - (Write your answer, then check the possible answers page.)

Aspects to duty of care

There are several aspects to duty of care:
  • Legal - What does the law require you to do?
  • Professional/ethical - What do other workers expect us to do?
  • Organisational - What does your organisation, and its funding body, say you should do?
  • Community - What do the parents of our clients and other community members expect you to do?
  • Personal - What do your own beliefs and values suggest you do?
You need to balance the safety of the young person against other concerns such as:
  • safety of other people/your personal safety
  • other rights that young people have (e.g. the right to privacy)
  • aims of the service (e.g. to empower young people)
  • limits of your organisation (e.g. money and other resources).Top of page

Case study / brainstorm exercise - Sula

Sula visits your centre on a regular basis for counselling. One day she arrives and is clearly very unwell. You think she needs medical attention but she says that she does not want to see a doctor. Are you carrying out your duty of care if you call the doctor yourself?

Question - What do you think is the right course of action?

Question - What would you consider to reach your decision?

Occupational health and safety (OH&S)

OH&S legislation exists to ensure that workers can operate in a safe environment. Organisations have an obligation to maintain equipment and to put into place strategies to prevent injuries and control hazards in the workplace. This includes adequate provision for the disposal of hazardous waste materials. OH&S legislation also requires organisations to make arrangements for worker's compensation and obliges them to have detailed emergency plans in the event of a fire or security breach.

Agencies are required by law to develop their own policies to deal with these issues. These policies should also relate to the mental health and wellbeing of workers as stress and burnout are an important consideration for people working in the community services and health fields.

Workplace learning activity

Question - Check the policy and procedure manual at your workplace. Does it contain specific policies relating to preventing and managing stress at your workplace? If not, why not?

Question - What steps could you take to make sure these policies are developed and/or put into action?


  • Historical development of national alcohol and drug policies have led to the current National Drug Strategic Framework that aims to reduce the harm caused by drugs.

  • Australia has a range of policies and programs that aim to improve health, social and economic outcomes for community and individuals.

  • Each state government has their own programs and polices in relation to alcohol and other drugs.

  • Changes in policy have a flow-on effect to many people in the community

  • Many laws impact on our young people.

Distance learners

(A good point for student to contact facilitator.)

Distance learners should take time now to reflect on their learning, check in with their facilitator and determine their progress.