Short Story Competition winners 2020

The Odyssey House Short Story Competition Winners for 2020 have now been announced and their stories can be found here. The theme for 2020 was Isolation and we received the largest amount of entries to date. Thank you to everyone who entered and congratulations to our winners. The Short Story Competition will open again in the second half of 2021. Happy Writing!

OHV Hope Centre Update

Exterior photo of the Odyssey House Hope Centre

We are pleased to announce that the Odyssey House Victoria Hope Centre in Lucknow, near Bairnsdale, is now officially open and has completed its first 6-months of operation. Despite plans to hold a launch on 20th April, the event had to be postponed indefinitely until COVID-19 related restrictions on any gatherings are lifted.

We officially began operating on April 15th with a small number of residents transferred from our Lower Plenty therapeutic community. This group of residents have helped to establish the culture of the program and have facilitated a peer-led therapeutic community.

During COVID-19 restrictions, we will be ensuring all bedrooms are single occupancy. Post COVID-19 we will increase capacity by a further 15 beds, to a maximum of 32. All residents will be from Victoria.

The car park has been extended to accommodate staff cars in addition to visitor cars (post COVID-19) and we will be paving around the perimeter of the building. We have also engaged a local Gunai Kurnai artist, Ray Thomas, who will be painting a piece for the reception area of the Centre. 

So far, the residents have been busy with plant propagation thanks to a sizeable donation of seedlings from Loy Yang B and they are undertaking significant tree planting in conjunction with East Gippsland Water. In addition to participating in their program schedule, this has given residents a sense of pride in being able to give back to their community. The residents have also been looking after the new chickens and guinea fowl that we now have on site.

Residents have given lots of positive feedback about the new centre, with its welcome space and tranquil environment, while they work on their treatment goals. Although the residents are missing the usual family visits that are not possible due to COVID-19, there are many examples of some great changes and personal growth being made by those in the program.

Odyssey House Victoria would like to thank members of the Hope Restart Centre Board and local businesses and services, who have made it possible to establish the program during these difficult times, together with the generosity of so many. This has doubled the impact of the significant government funding from federal and state governments, and has made residential rehabilitation more accessible for the people of Gippsland.

Pilot Mentoring Program

An illustration describing mentoring

Odyssey’s therapeutic community in Lower Plenty provides a structured and safe space for people seeking to address their substance use. However, once residents graduate from the residential rehabilitation program, they are often faced with the daunting task of creating a new network of support from scratch – work, recreation and community.

For any of us this would be challenging enough. For our graduates, connections and relationships are such a big part of their recovery journey, and these can be the difference between continued recovery or relapse over the long term.

Now, thanks to the Jack & Ethel Goldin Foundation, Odyssey is piloting a two-year mentor program helping our graduates build sustainable community connections for employment, recreation, friendship and a sense of belonging.

The program is simple in its design, yet we believe it will be very effective in delivering the essential support our graduates require. While still involved in treatment, a resident who is ready to begin to prepare for life beyond Odyssey, will be linked with a mentor who would then stay connected with them throughout their transition back into the community. 

Initially focused on employment, mentors will provide career advice, help graduates to identify skills and experience and provide access to their network.

Odyssey has recently employed a part time co-ordinator who will manage this initiative and who will engage, train and support mentors throughout their involvement in the program. If you are interested in finding out more information, please visit our Mentoring Program Page.

Young People and COVID-19

Teens on phone

During COVID-19 restrictions, the Odyssey House Youth & Family Services team have come up with some alternate ways to engage young people who may be at-risk of problems with, or are using drugs and alcohol. We know that many young people have felt disconnected from social supports and regular activities, which has led to increased alcohol & other drug use, mental health issues, increased risky behaviours and increased risk within the family environment. Specifically, the mental health impact on young people has increased due to social isolation and disruptive routines. 

Our team has been offering additional and more frequent, counselling sessions, which have been delivered using telephone or video sessions, based on the young person’s preference. Some young people do not have access to the internet therefore creating a barrier for them to engage with services that only offer online services and contact. To support this, we have distributed some refurbished laptops and mobile phones, and provided assistance with phone and data plans. More recently, a new state government initiative with Telstra is also supplying some mobile phones with a 12-month plan to keep people connected. Whilst we have initially used the Zoom and WhatsApp platforms, we have moved to Healthdirect as it is an easier and more secure platform and does not require an app to be downloaded for its use.

Many young people have reported that training and employment opportunities are limited with some of them disengaging from education due to lack of motivation and falling behind in school-work. Odyssey House has supplied food and clothing vouchers where necessary to young people, and where they are required to attend residential rehabilitation, detoxification and court appointments, we have been able to offer taxi vouchers to support their safe travel arrangements. Feedback has shown that these initiatives have all helped reduce the barriers for young people to get the treatment they need and to stay connected. 

We will continue to provide young people with information and education around harm minimisation and relapse prevention practices during COVID-19. We will also assist them to understand the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic; how the restrictions impact them and work together to develop strategies to recover until we can all return to COVID normal.

From isolation to connection

An illustration of parents playing with their children on swings

Isolation is the single biggest risk factor contributing to alcohol and other drug (AOD) misuse, homelessness, mental health issues, family and domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, and child and family reunification breakdown. Many families with AOD issues are isolated due to the breakdown of extended family relationships or tragedies.

For this reason, Odyssey House Victoria has created an innovative response that supports positive outcomes for isolated and vulnerable families. 

Developed and piloted over nine years, the Mirror Families practice model is a child-centred intervention program that focuses on creating and extending community connections for families where a parent has, or is recovering from, a substance use problem. It empowers families to create their own ‘extended family’ by recruiting people around them with an existing connection to the child, to commit to being part of the child’s future. It could be a neighbour, a teacher or a sports coach. This mirrors what happens in naturally occurring extended family structures.

For vulnerable families where a parent is addressing substance use, connection can be the difference between recovery and relapse and a deciding factor in whether families remain safely together, or not.

“I do need social networks otherwise I’ll go crazy again. I’ll isolate myself, get depressed, drink again, so it’s really opened my eyes to connecting with people and having relationships with them, whereas before, never.” (Sarah)

A mother’s experience

Odyssey’s aim to integrate the Mirror Families approach as a best practice framework in the Victorian child and family service system is now one step closer, thanks to generous philanthropic funding from the John T Reid Charitable Trust and The Edith Kemp Memorial Trust, Equity Trustees.

This support has enabled Odyssey to develop the first nationally accredited training in Mirror Families practice for those working with families and children across all sectors, including out-of-home care, community services, child protection, mental health, homelessness and alcohol and other drugs .

“They [the mothers] are learning how to parent, and at the start some don’t even know how to form friendships, let alone make play dates or have birthday parties.” 

A worker’s comment

To be delivered through Odyssey’s Registered Training Organisation (Odyssey Institute), this comprehensive training program is a highly interactive course incorporating podcasts, detailed stories of case studies, and videos of Odyssey workers, providing their expertise and practice. The course is supplemented with carefully selected academic and other resources. 

The new Mirror Families training program will be trialled during the remainder of 2020. 

Odyssey goes smoke-free

A pack of cigarettes being knocked over by dominos

We know that around three quarters of people accessing alcohol and other drug treatment are also tobacco smokers. We also know that diseases caused by tobacco smoking kill more people than drugs and alcohol combined1. Research from multiple studies suggests that people attempting to recover from alcohol and other drug use problems, have better abstinence outcomes 5-10 years later if they also quit smoking2, and that those quitting smoking during AOD treatment are also more likely to quit sooner3. In response to this research, Odyssey made the decision to go tobacco free at all its service sites. To implement this, we set up a working group in early 2019 and consulted staff, clients and industry bodies for feedback to determine the best way to support clients and staff towards this outcome.

The Circuit Breaker short-term residential program at Molyullah, near Benalla, went smoke-free in January this year. All residents are now provided with the option of Nicotine Replacement Therapies or Champix as alternatives to tobacco or smoking, and to help support their withdrawal. Prior to this, implementation of smoke-free services was discussed with residents in weekly action meetings, giving them the opportunity to give feedback, make recommendations, and raise any concerns. With the exception of residents of our Therapeutic Community (TC) in Lower Plenty, all other Odyssey House services went smoke-free for both staff and clients on 31st May (World No Tobacco Day). Our TC will go smoke-free in March next year, once the findings from the other areas of the organisation have been reviewed, in order to make sure the transition is as smooth and supportive as possible. 

Additionally, we have an Organisational Psychology Masters student from Deakin University who will be evaluating the change management process of going smoke-free at the TC. She may also be able to assist us in developing a resource for other residential services who wish to learn from our experience of going smoke-free.

  1. Scollo M.M., Winstanley M.H., editors. (2008) Tobacco in Australia: facts and issues. 3rd ed. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria.
  2. Tsoh, J.Y. et al. (2011) Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 114:110-118.  
  3. Kelly J.F. et al. (2019) Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 195:6-12.

Kids in Focus keeping families focused

Mother playing with child

Our Specialist AOD Family Services program Kids in Focus (KIF) provides intensive outreach support for families who have multiple and complex needs, as well as Child Protection involvement. Under normal times, most of our work is home based. During COVID-19 restrictions, staff have limited their face-to-face contact and come up with interactive ways to keep parents and children engaged in the program.

Some parents are at a disadvantage as far as accessing online services, and for many it is simply beyond their reach to pay for home internet. You will often have a parent whose phone is the only way for the children to continue not only their education, but the therapeutic services the children are engaged with. Further, they are always running out of data. For parents whose children are in Out of Home Care, time together has been either over the phone or using the phone to have some Zoom access. As you can imagine for many parents with younger children, this has been an extremely difficult time, and if you have a baby, it is impossible. It’s hard for many of our families to show the affection they want, without being able to give each other a hug.

To keep families engaged and to make it fun for both adults and children, our clinicians have been coming up with some interactive activities to run over Zoom. The most successful of these online groups has been our gardening, nutrition and cooking group. This involved purchasing and then distributing small clay pots, paints and brushes to decorate the pots, potting mix, herbs and then a laminated recipe sheet utilising the herbs.

The Zoom activity meant that parents and children would need to do the activity together, painting the pots, re-potting the herbs and then making the simple 3-ingredient, 3-step recipes. The feedback was fantastic and facilitating a fun activity that brings parent and child together helps to build and strengthen their relationship through memory making. Parents report that their decorated herb pots take pride of place at the front entrance of their homes. Our families were also lucky to receive food parcels and many essential items from Planet Shakers Church, which has made a big difference during these very difficult days.

Working for Victoria Funding

An illustration of outstretched arms across Melbourne

Odyssey House Victoria has been successful in attracting Victorian government funding for several new projects through the Working for Victoria initiative. This $500m fund was established to help people who have lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19 find paid work with organisations who need their skills. 

As an essential service, Odyssey has been as busy as ever at the front line of community responses to the pandemic, and we have had to find new ways of safely delivering services to clients. Emerging data shows increasing Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) use and mental health issues in our community, and confirms that young people and families are especially vulnerable to these and other wellbeing issues that have emerged or been exacerbated during COVID-19. 

The Working for Victoria funding has enabled us to employ two Youth Wellbeing Support workers whose role is to support some hard-to-reach young people, particularly those who identify as culturally and linguistically diverse, LGBTQI, or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. Other projects focus on ‘back-of-house’ areas to support and streamline Odyssey’s operations that will improve our efficiency, enable remote client and staff training and support and help ensure business continuity. They include several roles across our HR, training and record management areas. 

While these projects have immediate benefits, they also build the longer-term capacity of Odyssey to respond to emerging needs of clients, staff and the broader community as they arise.  

New Children’s Mural for Admissions Area in Richmond

Remi Picheta, our in-house Graphic Designer, who also works as a visual artist, was asked to design a mural for our children’s area, where families and individuals visit when they are seeking admission to our residential program. Remi created a vibrant scene of the Australian bush, home to lots of native wildlife. As you can see, the result is fantastic and has been well received by both children and their parents. 

Youth Boxing Program

Odyssey Youth & Family Services are currently running a recreational-based program at the City of Melton, to engage the most hard to reach young people in the community. The program aims to increase youth wellbeing through self-discipline, healthy-eating and exercise. It allows young people to learn boxing skills from a qualified coach and trainer within a safe environment. 

Facilitated by Onward Athletics, the program includes weekly guest speakers to discuss healthy eating, strength, exercise and conditioning. All participants receive support from a Youth Alcohol and Drug Worker. The training program runs for six weeks and we regularly have between six to eight clients attending.