Farm puts young addicts on path to recovery

Shannen Rose sits on the lawn with her rock star boots and devil-may-care smile, watching a yellow ladybug move along her fingers.

Nothing can distort the delicate spectacle - Shannen has been clean and sober for six months.

"A lot of addicts are really sensitive people deep down and the world hurts them," she says, all black-rimmed eyes, face full of metal, fingers closing gently - helping the insect along.

"They try and mask that by getting [high] and being out of control."

Shannen, once a student at an all-girls Catholic school in Sydney's eastern suburbs, started experimenting with methamphetamine when she was 16, and by 17 was a daily user. She used heroin too and, at her worst, weighed 38 kilograms - almost half her present size. She couldn't keep her hands still and would pick at her face remorselessly so it bloomed with scabs.

Now aged 21, she graduated this week from Mission Australia's Triple Care Farm, a residential program for young people with substance abuse and mental health problems.

The graduates lined up for the ceremony, some dressed in a shirt and tie as if for a school formal.

Ninety-eight went through the farm's three-month residential program this year, including some 16-year-old kids. Though young, many have had experiences that most adults never will.

Tyrone White, 21, of Albion Park, says he got clean for the sake of his two-year-old son.

"I didn't want him to grow up with a junkie father," said Tyrone, who wants to run his own painting business and buy a house.

"I just want to be a good father."

At the ceremony, graduates and their families are reminded it takes courage to change addiction. A woman who completed the program 22 years ago speaks. She has a husband, children and a normal life now, she tells them.

Program manager Gabriella Holmes said the program worked because staff took time to build a relationship with clients.

"[We] bring the program to them, not bring them to the program," she said. Staff have grown fond of clients, but there is no sadness at seeing them gone.

"It's wonderful to see the joy the families have in the young person that's been brought back into their lives," Mrs Holmes said.

Some 70 per cent of this year's graduates will kick their addiction or reduce their drug use to the point it no longer impacts on their life.

Shannen wants to be among the successful ones. She went to detox five times before finding the farm at Knights Hill, near Robertson. Saturated in sunlight, with views to the sea, this is a stark contrast to a world of darkness and monsters, of being looked at as junkie scum.

The ladybug is gone now, but Shannen's mother and sister have come to witness the ceremony.

She was between detoxes when she realised she had lost her family's support, along with her job, friends, accommodation and countless possessions. And yet there they are, on the lawn with its endless view, waiting for her.

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