News & Events

The Impact of ACSO’s Boost Program on Youth Justice Reform

April 5, 2024

In the realm of youth justice reform, evidence speaks volumes. It tells us that stringent bail laws do not make communities safer; instead, they often exacerbate the social drivers leading young individuals into the justice system. Once a young person enters the justice system, statistics bleakly forecast an ongoing cycle of involvement. But amidst this disheartening narrative, there is a beacon of hope: ACSO’s Boost Program. 

Developed by ACSO in conjunction with the University of Wollongong, NSW Police and Youth Justice NSW as an evidence-based initiative, Boost connected with young people during their initial encounters with the justice system. With the aim of breaking the cycle of violence and providing a path towards positive engagement in the community, the program’s impact is profound. It not only diverts young people away from the justice system but also significantly reduces the financial and social costs associated with legal processes and incarceration. Recognising the complexity of domestic and family violence, Boost provides a tailored, intensive mentoring program for at-risk young people aged 14-17. 

The urgent need for such interventions is underscored by recent legislative moves. Despite evidence suggesting otherwise, proposed bail laws in New South Wales threaten to significantly increase the number of young people in ongoing contact with police, courts and corrections.  However, programs like Boost offer a glimmer of optimism amidst these concerning developments. 

Boost’s efficacy isn’t merely anecdotal; it’s backed by comprehensive evaluation. Initially funded by the Commonwealth as a pilot, the program has now amassed tangible evidence of its success.  

One of the most striking revelations from the evaluation is the significant enhancement in overall wellbeing among program participants. A staggering 71% of young individuals reported an increase in their wellbeing score. This improvement, encompassing aspects such as self-worth and self-esteem, holds immense significance, as it is intricately linked to reduced recidivism rates among young people facing adversities. 

Moreover, statistical analysis from the NSW Children’s Court reveals compelling insights. Participants in the Boost program exhibited lower breach rates compared to those referred but not engaged in the program. Particularly noteworthy is its effectiveness in supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, a demographic disproportionately represented within the justice system and underscoring the program’s effectiveness in addressing systemic disparities within the justice system. One partner agency reported: 

“I’ve seen a number of kids, whose trajectory was bad prior to Boost, disappear from the court list. Often offences are committed by a small number of people, and suddenly they’re just not there anymore. That’s so valuable.” 

Karly Warner, CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT, succinctly captures the essence of the issue: “You don’t make communities safer by locking up children.” This sentiment encapsulates the core philosophy of Boost, which aims to address underlying issues rather than perpetuating cycles of incarceration. 

Perhaps most importantly, the Boost program is not just about short-term interventions but about fostering sustainable change. Participants expressed a deep sense of meaning derived from their experiences, suggesting that the protective factors instilled by Boost are likely to endure. An overwhelming 87% of young individuals described their involvement in the program as deeply meaningful, reflecting its profound impact on their lives. 

The accounts of positive changes, shared by both participants and their support networks, include 73% of young people experienced positive change in their education, training or employment working with their mentors. Family members and carers spoke about positive change in education (40%), noting a significant increase in school attendance. 73% of the young people interviewed said that they were better able to manage their emotions and deal with conflict because of the program. 

By delving into the root causes of violent behaviour and instilling new, prosocial skills, Boost equips participants with the tools for lasting change. Through strengthened protective factors and increased engagement in education and employment, Boost empowers young individuals to chart a different course for their futures. 

The Boost Program stands as a shining example supporting young people displaying problematic behaviours, often, if not always, due to trauma they have experienced in their own lives. Its success is undeniable, but its continuation requires ongoing support. As we navigate the complexities of youth justice reform, let us heed the evidence and invest in programs like Boost that have the power to change lives for the better. Let us urge state governments to recognises the value of Boost and provide the necessary funding to ensure its vital work can continue.  

To learn more about our Boost Program’s evaluation, or to partner with us on similar initiatives in the future, please contact us at