It’s quite a sight to see the BackTrack boys in action.
The kids along with their four-legged friends jumping hoops, wowing crowds, impressing their audiences, some of which have included MPs and prime ministers in the past.
And today, the NSW Governor and a long list of ministers in Sydney will watch on. And the state government should have a long hard look at it too.
This program is more than just putting on a show. In fact the dogs are just part of the plan to get kids on the right track.
BackTrack’s founder Bernie Shakeshaft has been running the mentor program for about a decade or so and uses the working dogs as an integral part of learning to help troubled kids.
Some have gone down the wrong track in life, some have just followed in footsteps of their families, others might have just got mixed up in the wrong crowd.
For some there might not have been much hope, but along came an opportunity in the form of a border collie or few in Armidale.
It has had success after success re-engaging at-risk teens with education and training and putting them on the right career path.
BackTrack has now also become the first youth program to have its outcomes evaluated through university research, following a three year project. And the findings are fascinating.
After involvement in the program, participants show significant reductions in psychological stress, suicide ideation, multiple suspensions from school and weekly illicit drug use.
Overall the youth crime rate in the communities in which BackTrack operates have reduced substantially.
The organisation earns 25 percent of its own income. The remainder comes from donations and grants. Now, the government should have a long and hard look at cementing it permanently into the future, in more places than just in Armidale. There’s not a one size fits all solution to keeping kids on track, and the horrific images we saw only weeks ago of children in a Northern Territory detention centre show custody doesn’t always deter kids, instead it could institutionalise them.
Through BackTrack’s four programs, these local teenagers are getting a chance to get things right. It’s something special. To give one kid an opportunity might not mean much to some, but it could make the world of difference to them.
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