JCU academic's mission to help her community
A James Cook University researcher is championing a grassroots movement that supports people who fall through the gaps left by traditional social services.
A born-and-bred Mount Isa resident, Stephanie King works for JCU’s Mt Isa Centre for Rural and Remote Health (MICRRH), focusing on Indigenous people’s health issues.
Miss King and Leann Shaw volunteer their time to run ‘community yarning circles’ in the town. These are informal gatherings where people can talk, knowing they will be heard and supported.
“People might be struggling with drug and alcohol issues, they might need help but don’t meet the criteria for assistance that’s available. There are lots of gaps,” said Miss King.
One of the biggest worries within the community is the rising use of Ice and other methamphetamines. Miss King said the impacts are felt well beyond the immediate user, with families and communities hurt in the process.
Ms Shaw said Mount Isa is a crossroads, with many people passing through the regional centre. “Anything that’s out there will pass through here too. We’ve dealt with concerns over alcohol before, but this is different. A lot of people don’t understand the effects of Ice and other emerging drugs. For many of the grandparents the worst they’ve had to deal with was Ganja.”
Miss King said the groups had started by seeing people who had been impacted by drugs, with a big demand from Indigenous families needing support. But they soon found there were needs to be met from everyone in the community.
“We’re building families up to be strong, to have the knowledge around drugs, to support each other and to recognise and support family who are struggling with addictions,” she said.
“We find out how we can best support people, whether that is externally or otherwise, and where there is no process we do our best to support their journey to getting healthy and well.”
Miss King said she and Ms Shaw ensured the voice of the community was being heard at all levels. “We have been involved in numerous submissions to the National ICE Taskforce, Australian Parliament law enforcement committees, and mental health drug and alcohol action plans within the community at state and national levels. We have been invited to speak at Rotary clubs, Zonta, Young People Ahead and Amnesty International.”
“We go to where people are, we are flexible in our approach and understand that things don’t happen during normal hours - that there are different environments for different people and some people just need that pastoral support. So we just make ourselves available for people in need.”
Miss King said JCU had provided the group with a lot of help, with MICCRH Director, Professor Sabina Knight ensuring staff had a voice and a focus on improving health outcomes for the community.
“She’s made facilities available to hold the yarning circles activities and she has supported us attending the Ice Round Table in Brisbane in September. Professor Knight makes sure that what we are saying is heard through the conversations that she has with her peers working in rural and remote health and this gives us the opportunity to better advocate for what’s really needed.”
Miss King and Ms Shaw are now planning a community research project looking at other activities to decrease harm associated with drugs in the community.