Children as young as nine are known to be using ice in the New England North West region, however there is no support services available for children in that age group, the special commission of inquiry into the drug heard on Friday.
The prevalence of ice use in the Moree and Narrabri area was first noticed about five years ago, and the drug has become increasingly accessible over the past two years, Centacare executive manager Cigdem Watson told the Special Commission of Inquiry into the Drug 'Ice' during the second day of public hearings on Friday, August 16.
Ms Watson, who is based in Narrabri, oversees the Personal Helpers and Mentors Program (PHaMS) and the Youth Drug and Alcohol Service (YDAS).
The YDAS was established in 2018 to provide complex case management, psychosocial support and care coordination for young people aged between 10 and 19, over a 12-week intervention period, with an aftercare model for six months. Currently, the YDAS is only available in Tamworth and Narrabri.
"When designing the model, we chose 10 [as the age to start] because we were aware drug use in communities is sometimes less, but it is predominately around 10," Ms Watson told the commission.
"We hoped that we could service young people before they start to have problematic drug use.
"We are aware of some people younger than 10 being referred to our service, which we can't accommodate."
The YDAS currently has a caseload of 45 in Tamworth and close to 30 in Narrabri, but Ms Watson said there's significantly more demand than what they're able to service, particularly in other areas of the region.
"In one week in Armidale alone, we had nine referrals come through for young people; a nine-year-old was one. Firstly, we can't service people under 10, and secondly, we're only funded for the Tamworth region, so we can't service someone in Armidale," she said.
The commission heard that inter-generational drug use is a major problem in the area, particularly among the Indigenous population.
Ms Watson said previously, Centacare was seeing a lot of grandparents raising children because their parents were using drugs but now, in towns like Walgett, grandparents are using ice as well.
"When FaCS [Family and Community Services] get involved, they used to place children with their grandparents, but now [the grandparents] are using it too, so it's becoming really difficult," she said.
"They're not really safe, there's no safe place for them. Their home is not safe."
One particular young person that the YDAS has been working with comes from a family with significant transgenerational trauma, substance abuse and related incarceration, and turned to using ice, bupe and injecting heroin after suffering a major trauma.
"Mum, along with four, possibly five older siblings, have significant mental health and drug use issues," Ms Watson told the inquiry.
"Mum doesn't use ice, but all the siblings do. They'd been in and out of jail and/or mental health facilities and are used to taking a lot of risks."
This young person is currently undergoing pharmacotherapy and will soon be heading to Newcastle to detox, having been through the YDAS program three times now.
"This is the first time someone in that family has been able to access a service such as ours and we're starting to see significant changes, so the young person is now feeling more empowered, re-engaged with school, looking at career options, wants to get into beauty therapy," Ms Watson said.
While the model is proving to have success, Ms Watson said the demand far outweighs their service reach, due to restricted funding and resources.
"If they had longer tenured contracts, I think that would really help, if they had more funding, that would help," she said.
"We've got staff that are ready to be able to take on and meet some of those demands but we haven't got the funding to employ them in those capacities to provide those services,"she said.
Ms Watson recommended the government provide more funding, re-introduce longer tenured contracts and less competitive tendering to enable greater service collaboration to tackle the issue.