Youth program boasts 87 per cent success rate

Work and play: Members of Armidale's Backtrack program train working dogs as part of the curriculum that has given the organisation a near 90 per cent success rate. Tamworth's program is expected to open within months.
Work and play: Members of Armidale's Backtrack program train working dogs as part of the curriculum that has given the organisation a near 90 per cent success rate. Tamworth's program is expected to open within months.

The Tamworth community will benefit from it’s very own Backtrack Program later this year, and based on the success of the original Armidale model it will truly make a difference to youth in need.

The Armidale program was founded by social worker and jackeroo Bernie Shakeshaft in 2006, and boasts a success rate that is the envy of the industry.

“We take kids that are on long term suspensions or completely removed from the education system – it is not an indigenous program although 75 per cent of the kids we have are,” Mr Shakeshaft.

“Most of these kids have a mountain of issues so we take a holistic approach and fill gaps in the system, sometimes they might take three or four years in the program.”

“We have an 87 per cent success rate. That is 87 per cent of kids that leave the program are either in full time education and training or full time employment.”

While the Armidale program is completely run through self generated funding and private donations, the Tamworth program will run off the back of the Challenge Services recycling plant and the NSW Government’s Container Deposit Scheme.

“We would love to get government funding, but we refuse to change our model,” Mr Shakeshaft said. 

“Most of the government grants are short term, looking for quick turn-arounds. Our long term holistic delivery is how we get those outstanding results.” 

The Armidale organisation will play a large role in setting up and implementing the Tamworth program, although Mr Shakeshaft won’t leave empty handed, with the Armidale program sharing strong ties with Joblink Plus.

“The recycling idea in Tamworth is an absolute cracker – we are happy to share our program wherever the system isn’t working, if someone wants to have a crack at running it,” he said.

“In many regards Joblink Plus are doing a better job than us, so I am hoping to poach a few ideas myself. The training programs and social model ideas they are generating, like the barber shop, are great.” 

The Armidale program has recently had a big win of its own as well, with new funding in place to employ a full time school teacher for five years.

Former Bourke based teacher James Warne will step into that role at the end of the month.

“It means we can go from three days a week to five, and James has terrific experience – it’s a big win for us,” Mr Shakeshaft said.

“We are also running a girls program now one day a week, and are hoping to increase that as well.

Currently the program has 40 kids enrolled at any one time, “keeping the kids in for as long as it takes – one out one in, and then we start again.” 

“It is a voluntary program recognised by the Education Department.”