In the heart of Armidale, northern NSW, a unique youth intervention program named BackTrack has been rewriting the narrative of troubled youth since 2006. Founded by Bernie Shakeshaft, a former dingo tracker and jackeroo, BackTrack has become a beacon of hope for young individuals teetering on the edge of the criminal justice system. As Queensland grapples with rising youth crime rates, the question arises: Should the Sunshine State adopt a program like BackTrack to address its own challenges?

A Shakeshaftian Journey:

Bernie Shakeshaft’s journey from unconventional teacher to the founder of BackTrack began with a simple yet profound observation – the transformative power of pairing troubled youth with working dogs. Shakeshaft’s hands-on approach, coupled with practical skills training in welding, farm work, and construction, offers an alternative to conventional education. Unlike programs with set timeframes,BackTrack embraces a “whatever it takes for as long as it takes” philosophy, allowing participants to stay until they find their footing.

The Cost of Detention vs. Intervention:

Shakeshaft highlights a stark reality: it costs $700,000 annually to detain a child as young as 10, while the BackTrack residential program incurs only $160,000 per year. As Queensland grapples with budget constraints and the need for effective intervention strategies, the financial argument in favour of adopting a program like BackTrack becomes compelling. Shifting the focus from punitive measures to rehabilitation could not only save resources but also contribute to long-term societal benefits.

A Track Record of Success:

BackTrack’s impact is not just anecdotal. A 2014 study by the universities of NSW and New England reported a 38% decrease in Armidale’s youth crime rates in the program’s inaugural year. The emphasis on training working dogs has played a pivotal role, offering participants a sense of responsibility and purpose. The success of BackTrack has led to its model being adopted in eight other areas, forming the Tracker network, with numerus towns expressing interest.

Teaching Beyond Academics:

The program’s holistic approach extends beyond traditional academics. BackTrack recognizes the importance of equipping youth with practical skills and offers a safe-haven for those in need. Participants are not only trained in various vocational skills but also taught life principles encapsulated in agreements displayed prominently in the program’s classroom.

A Vision for Queensland:

As Queensland considers strategies to curb its rising youth crime rates, BackTrack provides a proven model worth serious consideration. The program’s ability to transform lives, reduce crime rates, and instil a sense of purpose in at-risk youth suggest that Queensland could benefit from adopting a similar approach. In doing so, the Sunshine State may find a cost-effective and compassionate solution to the complex challenge of youth offending.

BackTrack stands as a testament to the transformative power of unconventional yet pragmatic approaches to youth intervention. Queensland, faced with its own youth crime challenges, would do well to explore the merits of a program like BackTrack. The success stories, cost-effectiveness, and community-based ethos make it a compelling model for reshaping the future of troubled youth in the Sunshine State.

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