The challenge 

The life pathways for young people with complex needs due to such experiences as childhood trauma, alcohol and drug use and contact with the criminal justice system or a combination of these experiences, are poorly understood. This includes the role of early intervention and treatment programs, for which there is little data to follow-up longer term  outcomes.

The solution 

In response to the evidence gap, researchers at UNSW School of Population and UTS, led by Associate Professor Sally Nathan, in partnership with the Ted Noffs Foundation, conducted research to understand the life pathways and the role of interventions, such as a therapeutic community residential treatment programs and how these positively impact the lives of young people referred to these programs.

The researchers collected and worked with qualitative, survey and linked data (including health and criminal justice data) over the four year study. The findings have highlighted for example, the need for implementing trauma-informed models of care and continuing care after an episode in residential treatment programs.  The research showed a number of positive outcomes linked to program attendance, such as reduced hospitalisations and criminal justice convictions for young people attending treatment for 30 days or more compared to those who stayed less than 30 days or did not attend.

“Both UNSW and Noffs hope that by intervening early to support young people from diverse backgrounds who develop problems with alcohol and other drugs can have a major impact in reducing adverse health outcomes and setting them up on a more positive life pathway. This study shows that it also helps the rest of the community too.”

Daily Telegraph, 23 January 2022

The impact 

The research team were awarded the 2020 Australian Therapeutic Communities Association Excellence in Research Award for contributions to the treatment evidence-base. The study findings have had a large media reach and have supported ongoing advocacy to increase funding and access to programs and support. In July 2022 the ACT government announced it would award the Ted Noffs Foundation's Program for Adolescent Life Management significant funds to help with redevelopment of a treatment centre for young people with addiction. Further analyses are currently being finalised for publication focussed on the criminal justice linked data, qualitative interviews and the 12 month follow up survey.

Key people and partners

 Sally Nathan
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Australia’s largest provider of drug treatment for young people

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This research was supported by an Australian Research Council Linkage Projects funding grant and the Ted Noffs Foundation. Sarita Bista was supported as a PhD student with a full scholarship at UTS Sydney.