Helping ‘at risk’ young people find new pathways

Remaining engaged to education during the remote learning of the 2020 lockdowns was difficult for most students. For many across our region disengaging from school, family and friends was a harsh reality.

Using a combination of experiential learning, wilderness therapy, family group work, mediation, counselling and development of community interconnectedness, Operation Newstart seeks to prevent students at risk of disengaging prematurely from their families and education, and to provide pathways to further education and employment. Operation Newstart Geelong seeks to address the needs of students at risk in the middle years of the State Secondary School system in the Greater Geelong, Surf Coast, Golden Plains and Queenscliffe local government areas.

Operation Newstart received a $30,000 grant from the Give Where You Live Foundation, ensuring the program has been able to employ a Youth Worker to provide comprehensive support to 72 young people at significant educational risk, such as Sophie*. Sophie was nominated for the Newstart program because she had disengaged from school during remote learning during the COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020.


Sophie was often absent, lacked motivation, had low self-esteem and an unsettled home life due to recent changes in her living situation. Sophie however, demonstrated enormous progress during her term on Operation Newstart. She attended every day of the program, which was a huge achievement given her absenteeism at school. Sophie gave her best effort during activities, developed short and long term goals, improved her self-esteem by 113% (Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale) and reduced her total difficulties by 96% (Strength and Difficulties Questionnaire) over the course of the program.

Sophie is now actively engaged at her local Secondary School and has the goal of either completing year 12 to become a graphic designer or securing a panel beating apprenticeship. Sophie has been working casually as a waitress and has fulfilled her dream of owning a Holden HQ and restoring it with her Dad and is thankful for the positive relationships she now has with her family, teachers and friends thanks to the help of the Operation Newstart Geelong program.

*Names have been changed for privacy