Adrenaline and outdoor adventuring has helped more than 80 young people since January this year to build confidence and develop their social and emotional skills, as part of the Youth Adventure and Recreational Services (YARS) program.

Now in its fourth year, this innovative Department for Child Protection (DCP) program aims to help young people living in residential care who have disengaged from other extracurricular activities and education.

“The young people who participate in YARS generally have complex behaviours as a result of the extensive trauma that they have experienced,” said Dave Platt, Supervisor, YARS.

“We need to find ways to connect and encourage to them express what they are experiencing.”

The YARS program encourages outdoor physical activity and positive risk-taking through activities ranging from abseiling and kayaking to speed boating and camping. Qualified activity instructors, who also hold a Certificate IV in Child, Youth and Family Intervention, work closely with each individual young person to help them to develop new skills and establish positive and trusting relationships.

“The transformations that YARS facilitates are truly amazing,” Dave said.

“These young people often can’t believe the things they get to do and the equipment they can use, which builds positive memories and associations.

“They get a natural high from the exercise and adrenaline rush, which helps them to ‘reset’ and teaches them about self-regulation.

“We also try to support cultural connection within the program as much as we can, and regularly take Aboriginal young people back to Country.”

The program is part of a range of approaches being pursued in DCP residential care, including the My Place program, youth engagement and implementing the new Sanctuary model of therapeutic care.

“All of a sudden they start talking to you and opening up, which they’ve never done before… sometimes the best conversations we have are in the car!,” Dave said.

“Knowing what they can achieve and believing in themselves has flow-on effects to other areas of the young person’s life; they start to think ‘I can succeed’.

“The young people come so far - their complex behaviours improve, they start to think more about the decisions they make, their placements stabilise and they start to develop stronger and more positive relationships with other young people and their carers.”

In real life

A 15 year old young man living in residential care has uncovered a strong natural talent for mountain biking through the YARS program, and is reaching new heights on a personal level as well.

Before joining YARS, the young person was experiencing difficulties within his placement, had been diagnosed with Autism and was struggling with social interactions with his peers.

“I saw straight away that this young person had natural talent, and told him that it wouldn’t be long before he was out-riding me,” said his YARS instructor.

“Well it actually only took five weeks before he was showing me how to ride through obstacles that I found very challenging!”  The young person’s confidence has grown considerably through the program, which has provided him with opportunities to develop his interpersonal skills and connect with other young people with similar interests.

“He is more comfortable in social situations, and has told me about meeting other young people out on trails and using his interest in mountain biking as an ice breaker to start a conversation.

“A turning point was when he started talking to other children at a BMX track and giving them advice about how to tackle the obstacles – it was just amazing.”

The young person is now mentoring another YARS participant through the program and recently applied for a job in a bike store, which is a significant achievement.

“He has also begun to open up about other areas of his personal life, and I have been able to support him with some of the challenges he has been facing around stress and anxiety, particularly with relationships and friendships at school.”