Triple Care Farm

So, if you're one of those people who actually reads to the end of my blog posts, you might have noticed I'm abseiling off the AMP Building at Sydney's Circular Quay on Friday morning to help raise funds for the Sir David Martin Foundation ...

The foundation, if you've never heard of it, is a non-profit organisation created in 1990 by the late governor of NSW, Sir David Martin, who had a dream of "safety, hope and opportunity for all young Australians".

They get counselling from psychologists, help for their drug and alcohol related issues and perhaps, most importantly, experience contact with adults who are caring and consistent.

His vision was to create an environment where young people from disadvantaged backgrounds could grow up with the resources to achieve their full potential.

One of the most eye-opening of the programs the foundation contributes to is Mission Australia's Triple Care Farm.

If you've never heard of the place, say a little prayer your kids never have need of it, then say another prayer that, if they did, the farm and the people who staff it, exist.

Snuggled away on 40.5 hectares of land at Knights Hill, near Robertson, NSW, "the farm accepts young people aged 16-24 years, and provides treatment and support for the co-morbid conditions of drug addiction and mental illness, all within a residential setting", Mission Australia says.

Of the 101 young people who went through the farm last year, every one had a drug problem and 84 per cent had some kind of mental health issue, with 9 per cent cent suffering from schizophrenia, 17 per cent psychosis, 14 per cent bipolar disorder and 50 per cent depression.

One in three had attempted suicide.

The average age of the kids was just 19 and 51 per cent had been physically abused, 23 per cent sexually abused, 75 per cent came from broken homes, 57 per cent had been homeless, 77 were unemployed and 84 per cent had criminal histories.

74 per cent were male.

No one's going out of their way to help these young people - they are easy to write off as "too hard", "too damaged" - but this is where Triple Care Farm steps in.

Says Mission Australia: "The approach of Triple Care Farm is best described as holistic because it seeks to observe and understand the social, environmental, physical, mental and vocational antecedents and after-effects of addiction."

Over a 12-week period, "the farm takes the first step in rebuilding broken lives, gently helping them to untangle their problems and equipping them with the skills to make a positive change in their lives".

This is no wham-bam program; the students become part of an extended family, participate in courses such as panel beating, landscaping, farming techniques, literacy, numeracy and computer skills.

Some of them spend up to three or four months at the farm.

They get counselling from psychologists, help for their drug and alcohol related issues and perhaps, most importantly, "experience contact with adults who are caring and consistent".

I wonder if that's something we all take for granted - that there are adults in our lives we can depend on?

At Triple Care Farm, it's often the first time the students meet someone like that, and I dare say it's the beginning of building trust in all parts of their lives.

"With the majority of all graduates moving into jobs, apprenticeships or furthering their education, Triple Care Farm is believed to be one of the most successful programs of its kind in Australia in reaching out to emotionally hurt and troubled young people," the Sir David Martin Foundation says.

"At the end of their stay on the farm, the students graduate from the program. The young people are then placed in a supportive environment of either group homes, back to their family or independent living. Support networks are established and follow-up continues for three to six months after the students leave the farm."

Sadly, applications for the farm are growing at an exponential rate: In 2008 there were 1500 genuine applications, in 2009 there were 3000 and last year there were 6000.

That means only one in 60 kids gets the help they need.

It costs $23,000 to put one person through the three-month program, so without extra bucks there will literally be thousands of young people who never get the chance to rebuild their lives.

Anyway, as I've said before, I never ask you for anything, but today I am: give generously and you'll get to see me thrown off the AMP Building as part of the Sir David Martin Foundation's Abseil for Youth.

I would welcome any contribution, great or small, and it's sooo easy to do. Go here.

Seriously, don't be a tight-arse. You really could change a kid's life.

Sam de Brito's latest novel Hello Darkness is in bookstores now. You can follow him on Twitter here.