Advocacy, Families, Youth

From adventure therapy to connecting with culture – third Northern Rivers conference for youth workers held

Written byChristine Tondorf
Published on17 Mar, 2023

A Northern Rivers community workers conference held in Ballina has examined best-practice ways to engage children, young people and their families, including adventure therapy and connecting with culture to strengthen wellbeing.

130 workers and community members attended the Better Chances Engagement Practice Forum in Ballina on Wednesday, 15 March. The not-for-profit organisation Social Futures organised the conference, supported by a committee of government and community organisations.

Conference organiser, Ian O’Reilly from Social Futures, said there were speakers from Northern Rivers programs and community-led initiatives.

“Workers and community members stepped up to share their expertise and stories about their work. There is a lot we can learn from others in our own region,” Mr O’Reilly said.

“Children and young people have different needs so we can’t expect the same approach to work with everyone. Our speakers have experience delivering a diverse range of fantastic programs and initiatives that have engaged and benefited young people and children.

For example an innovative program, like a Human Nature Adventure Therapy engages young people by doing whatever activity the young person is interested in to build a meaningful connection, which is essential to engage in essential therapeutic work.

They are seeing great success engaging young people who have not been able to connect with other services.

Mr O’Reilly said community workers support children and young people who may be facing challenges at school, home, with their friend group or in other areas of their life, but the conference also looked at supporting and improving the wellbeing of all children and young people in the broader community.

“Another conference highlight was the Bunyarabugalma’ (make well; make healthy) workshop. This includes therapeutic breathing, stretching, Bundjalung language-learning and exercises directed at mind, body and spirit.

Mr O’Reilly said the conference was an opportunity for workers from across Bundjalung, Yaegl and Gumbaynggirr Country to come together and connect face-to-face after years of disruption from natural disasters and the Covid pandemic.

“Workers are keen to meet, connect, and strengthen the partnerships we need to support children, young people and families across our region.”

Mr O’Reilly said this was the third Better Chances conference with previous events held in 2016 and 2019.

“These were held before the pandemic, and attendees loved the event,” he said.

“Conferences like the Better Chances Forum are important because they encourage professionals supporting children and young people to think about how they engage, and to strengthen their practice. Ultimately everyone benefits when our children and young people are thriving and connected with their community,” Mr O’Reilly said.