Eight years ago, foster carer Penny Hallett’s desire for equal opportunities for all children saw her dedicate her life to providing care.
Inspired by her experience as a volunteer for The Pyjama Foundation, Penny and her husband began to explore the idea of becoming foster carers.
In 2008, Penny’s journey began when she was matched with a young boy in care through the Foundation’s Love of Learning Program. Together they played educational games, read stories, built confidence and set the child up to be much more than what life had given him.
Penny went on to mentor another young girl, where she met a foster carer who had cared for children for over 40 years and inspired Penny to explore becoming a carer herself.
In 2011, Penny and her family embarked on the process and became full time foster carers.
This Foster and Kinship Carer Week we celebrate the wonderful people in our community just like Penny. People who are opening up their hearts and homes for children in out of home care.
“As a volunteer with The Pyjama Foundation, you are able to form a positive relationship and encourage a love of learning,” she said.
“We would read books together, sometimes we would go outside and enact the stories that sparked their imagination, or just jump on the trampoline and laugh a lot.
“The children I mentored and have in my home have the most heart wrenching stories, but you know what, they just get on with it.
“Apart from all the ‘mum things’, I see my role as a Foster Carer as being my kids advocate until they can do that for themselves.
“I can’t imagine my life not being involved with kids in care, and I am grateful for the lifelong friendships I have made with other carers and all the wonderful staff at The Pyjama Foundation.”
Child Safety Minister Di Farmer congratulated Penny on her support for children in care, both as a Pyjama Angel and now as a foster carer.
“The men and women who volunteer to be foster carers are some of the kindest and most caring I’ve met,” she said.
“Penny has given some children who need some love and support her time, care and attention both as a Pyjama Angel, then as a foster carer.
“Penny’s opened her heart, and then her home. You really can’t underestimate just how life changing that kind of support can be to the children who are looked after by our carers.”
The number of children in the out of home care system continues to rise in Australia. There is now more than 9,000 children currently in foster and kinship care in Queensland.
Foster and Kinship Carer Week runs from 21-28 April and aims to celebrate and thank people like Penny for their continued work. These special people are ensuring the most vulnerable children have a loving place to call home.
We sat down with our new Ipswich Coordinator, Mel Green, to find out why she chose to join The Pyjama Foundation’s team (family), and to know what drives her, and other fun little tidbits!
Why did you apply for the role of ‘Ipswich Coordinator’?
I have always had a passion for helping other people and helping fundraise and run events for many not-for-profit organisations or just “good causes” – Since having my almost 6 year old I have considered becoming a Foster Carer myself and just last year completed a Teacher’s Aide course with the view of helping kids in school as well as my own son with his learning now that he’s just started Grade 1 – I saw The Pyjama Foundation to be a great opportunity to combine both of these and to be involved in helping kids in our local area that need it more than most. I couldn’t turn up an opportunity to be a part of that.
What do you love most about your job (so far)?
Meeting new people in our community and listening to all the great stories of the success our Pyjama Angels have in creating relationships and making a difference in these kids’ lives as well as their own.
What challenges are you currently facing? (And how are you working to overcome them)
At the moment the biggest challenge is learning more about the families we can help and the volunteers we currently have to make the best matches for success in our Love of Learning Program.
What are your goals for the Ipswich region/ branch of The Pyjama Foundation?
My biggest goal right now is to find as many new volunteers as possible to match up as many of the kids we have already waiting to be placed in our program that are yet to know what it’s like to have a Pyjama Angel in their life and what that can mean for them.
What are you passionate about? / What drives you?
Being able to help people that don’t always get all the opportunities that others get in life.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I go to the gym, love family time including our 2 fur babies, camping, eating out at new places and also our favourite’s, hanging out with good friends – and LOVE to go on holidays, see places that I haven’t seen before, meet people and learn about different cultures from real people (not a tour guide).
What are your favourite places to visit in Ipswich?
Kholo Gardens (so beautiful and peaceful), Ipswich Nature Centre, Workshops Museum, Bundamba Swimming Pool, Any of the walks/bike tracks around – especially the dinosaur footprints!
What’s your favourite quote?
To make a difference in someone’s life you don’t have to be brilliant, rich, beautiful or prefect – you just have to care – Mandy Hale
What’s a fun fact about you that you’d like to share?
I once moved more than 10 times in one year – and I hate moving!
What’s your favourite children’s book?
It’s hard to pick just 1 – there are so many, but my favourite author is Dr Seuss – not only are his books fun to read, bright and happy, they all have underlying meanings or some kind of learning in a fun, playful way.
In Australia, there are more than 48,000 children in the foster care system and of this number, approximately 75 per cent won’t finish high school.
The reality is many of these children may have never felt a sense of love and support in their lives, leaving it up to their carers to put the pieces back together.
A training initiative launched in Victoria by Carer KaFE, in collaboration with The Pyjama Foundation is aiming to provide a new level of educational support.
In 2019, Carer KaFE will be working with The Pyjama Foundation to support carers in assisting their children with their learning, an area many of them may have never felt comfortable delving into.
It’s an area The Pyjama Foundation have been providing support in for more than 15 years, matching trained learning mentors with children in the system to provide educational support.
The Pyjama Foundation Program Manager Kevin Gallard said throughout his time training Pyjama Angel community volunteers he has met many wonderful carers who he describes as the “angels”.
“Our Love of Learning program allows us to support these carers by providing them with a special Pyjama Angel for their child, often giving them an hour of respite each week,” he said.
“This training takes this support one step further, empowering our carers with the tools to directly support their children with their education.
“Our program offers tried and tested learning methodologies which are research based and match the current curriculum.
“We demonstrate to foster parents how to support their children with literacy and numeracy in a fun and engaging manner.”
Launched in 2017, Carer KaFE provides learning and development opportunities for Kinship and Foster carers throughout Victoria.
Program Manager Penny Daly said this type of education was something carers were calling out for.
“Our evaluations and feedback from kinship and foster carers across the State told us that helping children and young people with their homework is something carers need support with,” she said.
“After seeing Kevin present at the Queensland National Foster Care Conference, we knew that we had found the perfect answer to the carers requests.
“Carers leave these sessions with a bag of wonderful resources that turn homework help into fun games.”
Kinship and Foster carers said the support received in this session was invaluable, providing strategies and resources to use for all ages.
“I felt stuck in helping my child educationally, now I have strategies to help and resources to use,” one said.
“I learnt new techniques to help my 6-year-old who at present hates school as she has issues with being told what to do. She won’t even know I am helping now,” said another.
For more information on Carer KaFE and its work in Victoria, www.carerkafe.org.au/.