Kids Back on Track campaign
KIDS across Australia grew up watching Benita Collings on Play School, but behind the scenes she was quietly helping troubled youths turn their lives around.
For more than 20 years, Ms Collings has been training Youth Insearch leaders and attending the youth support program’s camps.
In that time, she’s witnessed thousands of broken young people turn their lives around.
She recalls meeting a 14-year-old boy on her very first Youth Insearch camp.
“He came up to me and said ‘hello, my name is Heath Ducker, I’m here to show you around for the weekend’ – I get teary every time I think about,” Ms Collings said.
Mr Ducker is now heading up Youth Insearch, fighting to get the government to reinstate funding for the program that saved his life.
Ms Collings said Mr Ducker was only one of the 30,000 people the program has helped during its 30 year history.
“At my first camp, I spent half time crying after listening to the stories of the people there,” she said.
“I don’t cry anymore, outwardly anyway, but when you hear some of these stories, you think ‘how are you still alive, how have you managed to survive?’”
When she can make it the camps, Ms Collings often reads everyone a bed time story after a long day of intensive sessions, “to give them an experience they possibly never had before”.
A talented actor, Ms Collings is also a corporate trainer, and every year she trains the next wave of Youth Insearch leaders, many of who are graduates of the program eager to use their experience to help others.
“I am blown away in the leadership training, because I’ve seen where most of them have come from,” she said.
Ms Collings urged the government to give the charity the $400,000 a year it was asking for.
“It really is a ludicrously small amount in the grand scheme of things and it is so worthwhile to get these young people back on track,” she said. Ms Collings pointed to the recent Productivity Commission report, which found on average it costs nearly $500,000 to keep a juvenile in detention for a year.
“Do they realise how much it cost to keep a young person in prison compared to putting them through a weekend workshop?” she said.
“It just doesn’t make sense. Surely it is worthwhile to support young people to live happy and productive lives.”