Engadine District Youth Service

Sylvania High School student Nathan McConnell was today awarded the inaugural Sutherland Shire Love Bites Reflections Award at a presentation morning tea hosted at Sharks Leagues Club, acknowledging creative excellence and recognising achievement and learning through the Love Bites Respectful Relationships program.

The award winning Love Bites Program was delivered by Sutherland Shire Family Services to over 1,200 local Year 10 high school students at nine local high schools. Supported by Sharks Have Heart, the program focuses on learning through interactive workshops and creative expression opportunities that cover topics such as respectful relationships, consent, sexual assault and domestic and family violence.

The Love Bites Reflections Awards encourage students to reflect on the themes and messages of the Love Bites Program, and for the entire school to become involved in the dialogue about healthy relationships. Today’s function included an art showcase of submitted entries from finalists from participating schools.

Each School finalist was awarded a Certificate of Recognition, and enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate their achievements and showcase their work. Finalists came from Sylvania, Menai, Woolooware and Endeavour High Schools, Lucas Heights Community School, St.Patrick’s College and The Jannali High School.

McConnell’s entry - powerful poem called “People’s Scar”, demonstrated a strong understanding of the blame of violence lying with the perpetrator of abuse, not the victim. As the winner, he takes away a Sharks Merchandise & Behind the Scenes & Game Experience pack. Upon acceptance of his award, McConnell said “this is a serious topic, and it’s something that everyone should know about”.

Sharks Have Heart are supporting the Love Bites program in the Sutherland Shire through funding a part time coordinator for the Love Bites program. The program, which also relies on volunteer professionals from SSFS, Police, psychologists, DV counsellors, and other youth and family services organisations to facilitate these sessions in schools, was first developed by NAPCAN (National Association for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect) as has reached over 12,000 local Year 10 students in Shire High Schools since it was launched in 2011.

Sutherland Shire Family Services CEO, Ashleigh Daines, commended the way the 2019 program has been delivered “Amber has coordinated an exceptional group of volunteer facilitator professionals, delivering a high quality program to local schools on a very important topic. With our service receiving over 100 referrals each week from women and children experiencing domestic violence incidents, it’s more important than ever that young people are educated about respectful relationships and understand very clearly what is, and isn’t acceptable behaviour, in a relationship. Through greater awareness as they develop in emerging relationships,

future generations hopefully won’t experience the devastation that we are seeing today amongst many Shire families due to domestic violence.”

With the school year not quite finished, two other Shire schools – Endeavour Sports High School and Engadine High School, are soon to get the Love Bites training delivered to them, and will be eligibile for next year’s Reflection Awards program. “2020 is also shaping up to be another busy year – with many schools already having re-booked, and we’re also taking inquiries from schools that may have implemented other programs in the past, but on seeing the success of Love Bites, are looking to adopt for their school as well”.

Local Love Bites Coordinator for Sutherland Shire Family Services, Amber Schacht, sings the praises of participating Year 10 students in the program, “Comments from students that state the importance of these topics and thank facilitators for coming to openly discuss them are so encouraging. With 99% of young people reporting they believe Love Bites applies to real life, and 96% reporting more confidence about what a respectful relationship looks like and how to support a friend if needed, the future looks bright. I am ever inspired by young people like the finalists here today who vow to do their part to end abuse in relationships and advocate for respectful relationships for all.”