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Carers influential in allowing kids in care reach full potential

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.

Townsville volunteer helps preppie soar

Back to school after the holiday break can be a terrifying time for many children, particularly those in the foster care system.

But thanks to dedicated Townsville Pyjama Angel volunteer Robyn Narratone one child’s experience has been far more positive.

Lexi* was just two-years-old when Robyn was first matched as her Pyjama Angel.

Fast forward three years and countless hours of reading together and playing educational games, Lexi has soaring confidence and Foster Carer Sarah* said she couldn’t be more grateful for the support Robyn has provided.

“When our two-year-old began to develop an interest in language and books, we referred her to the Pyjama Angel Program and her Pyjama Angel Robyn has been such a great support to her ever since,” she said.

“I think for Lexi a key benefit was providing that individual, focused attention. As the middle child and having a brother with additional support needs, it was difficult for Lexi to get the learning support which was needed in order to catch up with her age group and develop foundational skills.”

Sarah said one of her very favourite moments was coming home from work and hearing little Lexi reading ‘Where is the Green Sheep’ by herself for the very first time.

“Weekly sessions have provided effective early intervention to support the development of a range of skills for school readiness, including following instructions, focusing on tasks, being able to talk and listen, identifying numbers and letters, basic manners, writing her name and taking turns,” she said.

“She has continued to thrive with Robyn’s support and we can see that she is set up for success with schooling.”

The Pyjama Foundation North QLD regional coordinator Mel Vaughan said quality interaction with adults in the early years is vital for educational success.

“We have a number of Pyjama Angels in our program, who are matched with toddlers or children about to start school,” she said.

“These volunteers provide positive learning experiences in a safe environment and build a love of reading and learning that will hopefully transfer to formal schooling experiences.

“Robyn sang simple nursery rhymes to Lexi, played counting games, read books, improved fine motor skills through finger painting and play-dough and completed puzzles.

Helping Foster Children Stay On Task

“Concentration is like a muscle that requires regular exercise to strengthen. Some kids are born “stronger” in this area than others, but all kids can learn strategies and engage in practices that help improve their ability to focus and sustain their attention”

– Dr. Jamie Howard

Children in out of home care often lack interest in learning and find difficulty in concentrating and staying on task. With 92% of children in care below average reading skills by the time they are seven years of age and struggle to catch up, it is important as mentors to help our children build and train their ‘concentration muscle’.

Here are some tips for our Pyjama Angels to implement in visits to help their children stay on task.

1. Set A Plan

It can be a good idea to create a plan for your visits. At the beginning of your visit you can work with your child to write out a set plan for the visit. This gives both you and your child the opportunity to decide what you will aim to achieve within your visit.

2. Set Time Lengths For Tasks

When setting a plan or just completing tasks, it is important to set appropriate time lengths for specific tasks. As a Pyjama Angel, you will get to know the typical time length your child will concentrate and focus on a task. Use your understanding to set appropriate time lengths on tasks you aim to complete.

3. Use Timers

When aiming to complete a task for a specific time, it can be helpful to utilise timers or stopwatches. Clocks or stopwatches can provide a visual aid for children, and help them understand when a task will finish.

4. Planned Breaks

It is also important to ensure that you build in planned breaks. After spending some time concentrating, it is useful to take a break whether that be a small physical break such as throwing a ball around or trying a Brain Gym exercise.

Brain Gym

These exercises can be utilised if child become distracted or simply as a planned break. These small physical activities will re-engage the brain and can help a child re-focus on a set task.

* Brain Gym exercises adapted from margdteachingposters.weebly.com/thinking-processes

 

Incorporating these tips will hopefully see your visits become more productive and time efficient, though it it important to remember that every child is unique and requires different techniques. Be patient and kind and see what works best for you and your child during your visits.

If you ever feel stuck and need any assistance or tips, our team is available for a chat at 07 3256 8802 between 9-5pm Monday-Friday.

Free holiday fun for all ages

The two-week September school holidays are here! This is a good time for you and your Pyjama child to get crafty, creative and learn outdoors without homework hindering your visit.

The holidays is an awesome opportunity to extend your visits and perhaps have a change of scenery. This is a wonderful way to build your relationship with your Pyjama Child but please remember the restrictions and key policies which you would have learnt about in your Pyjama Angel training.

Here are some free events happening in our regions during the September school holidays. This may provide some inspiration for potential activities or a fun day out. You may even be able to assist your carer in taking the whole family out for a free and fun-filled day!

The State Library of Queensland is hosting a one-day event these school holidays, to celebrate art, science, learning, play and adventure. The day offers children with an interest in scientific mysteries and art, to participate in experiments and games. This would be a perfect opportunity for Pyjama children to explore their interests or even show off their science skills!

For: Any age

Where: The Edge, State Library of Queensland

When: 10:00am to 3:00pm | Saturday 6 October 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens has designed a self-guided scavenger hunt, for those children interested in exploring nature. The Gardens provides an activity sheet to guide children around the gardens, encouraging them to find locate and explore the local flora and fauna. This scavenger hunt gives our Pyjama children the opportunity to explore nature!

Find the Botanic Gardens Scavenger Hunt Map here or collect from the Gardens Administration.

Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens are also providing 20 other free self-guided activities in the Gardens. There is an online passport that can be downloaded from here or collected from the Gardens Administration.

For: Any age

Where: Mackay Regional Botanic Gardens

When: 22-29 September

 

 

Has your Pyjama child expressed the interest in learning a new skill? The Pier is running 45-minute how-to knit sessions for children. These free lessons are designed to expand their creativity, concentration and coordination skills.

For: Any age

Where: The Pier

When: 10:00am – 1:30pm | 25 – 28th September, 2 – 5 October

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The National Gallery of Victoria is currently running an interactive exhibit for children, to explore the sights and sounds of New York! The exhibit is a great opportunity for our Pyjama children to learn about New York, through interactive displays, multimedia projections and hands-on activities.

For: All Ages

Where: National Gallery of Victoria

When: 10:30am – 12:30pm | 2nd October

 

The Gladstone Regional Libraries is holding a range of educational activities at libraries across the region these September holidays. If your Pyjama child has a special interest in technology or robotics, the libraries are holding sessions for children to learn the basics of coding and robot play. They are also providing craft activities, including tie dying.

For: Children 10 and over (Tie Dye Fun & Coding), All ages (Craft & Robot Play)

Where: Gladstone City Library

When: 24th September – 4th October

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a part of their KRANK program, The Logan City Council are holding many school holiday events, including a cooking class. This free event will let you and your Pyjama child master a new skill in the kitchen, while preparing and cooking new foods together. The Logan City council are also offering other events, such as Zumba and hip-hop classes.

For: 5 – 11 years

Where: Kingston East Neighbourhood Centre

When: 10am – 11am | 4th October

 

The State Library of New South Wales has recently opened their new Learning Centre and are holding a range of activities for children. These activities focus on building and construction giving children the opportunity to help the library create a cardboard city. Children can build and create a pop-up house!

For: All Ages

Where: State Library of New South Wales

When: 10am – 3pm | 8 October – 12 October

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Surfers Paradise is holding their annual Kids Week. This year the event is dinosaur themed and will showcase daily live shows from 1pm.  This event also gives our Pyjama children the opportunity to meet rangers and their animatronic dinosaurs, as well as learn all there is to know about dinosaurs!

For: All Ages

Where: State Library of New South Wales

When: 29th September – 5th October

 

The City of Townsville is holding two different Lego activities during the school holidays. These activities will give our creative Pyjama children the opportunity to construct a building with Lego and turn it into a robot! Through technology, the children will be able to program their robot to do exactly what they tell it to do.

For: 7+ years

Where: CityLibraries Thuringowa Central

When: 2pm – 4:30pm | 25th September & 4th October

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ipswich Art Gallery is running a workshop for children to create shadow puppets. The workshop let’s children transform their puppet design into a moveable creation made of pipe cleaners, paper, ribbon and a range of craft materials.

For: 4+ years

Where: Ipswich Art Gallery

When: 10am – 5pm | 11nd September – 11th October

Our Big Dreams Gala Ball 2018

One week ago, we hosted the night of all nights — an evening of glitz, glam and giving back. Guests came from as far as Western Australia to celebrate The Pyjama Foundation’s Big Dreams Gala Ball and raise much needed funds for children in foster care. Attendees were met with some of Brisbane’s best views, with the balcony of Room ThreeSixty at QUT providing a perfect outlook to the Story Bridge and Kangaroo Point.

The theme for this year’s event was inspired by the very core values of The Pyjama Foundation — every child should have the opportunity to dream big and go far. Each child should be given the tools to follow their wildest dreams!

Children living in out of home care often bounce between different homes and to different schools, which can affect their opportunities to read and learn, causing them to fall behind their peers academically. Dreams are no good if they remain just dreams and the Big Dreams Gala Ball was for the 52,000 Australian children living in foster care, with a focus on letting them know that their dreams and desires are just as valid as the next child’s.

Our guests were met at the door with a 9ft angel pouring bubbly for each willing patron (see below if you don’t believe us!), live entertainment, a photobooth setup worth marvelling at and a constantly stocked candy bar. It was a magical start to the evening!

We were lucky to be joined by former and present Pyjama kids, as well as many of our Pyjama Angels who continue to inspire us every day. Senior Executive Director, Accommodation, Respite and Forensic Disability Services at Department of Communities, Disability Services and Seniors Matthew Lupi was the entertaining MC for the evening, surprising guests with dream themed trivia between meals. Matthew welcomed the Honourable Di Farmer, Minister for Child Safety, Youth and Women and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence to give a powerful address to start off the evening.

Guests were thrilled with the banquet-style dinner, flowing beverages and incredible prizes. Our token instant win mystery envelopes were a hit again this year, with everyone walking away a winner thanks to our incredible prize sponsors! Raffle tickets were available to purchase on the night with more amazing prizes up for grabs, those who won the accommodation in Phuket and the Lamborghini driving experience were envied by all!

Our live auction also went off with a bang thanks to our friends at Watt Realty who got the crowd rearing for our big-ticket auction items! Accommodation on the ski slopes in Canada, a stay in a five-star lodge in Queenstown, and a private chef dinner in your own home all sold at generous prices to those in the room.

The money raised on the evening will go directly towards our Love of Learning Program which aims to improve the educational outcomes of children in foster care, just like 9-year-old Frankie who spoke about his special Pyjama Angel at our gala. A few words from his speech on the evening:

“Cathy has been visiting me for almost five years. The things we do together are read, play sport, watch movies, play iPad games, play with kinetic sand and sometimes go to the skate park. We have dinner together every week,” he said.

“I look forward to Wednesdays. Every Wednesday I ask mum, ‘Is Cathy coming today?’. I like Cathy a lot.

“Thank you for helping The Pyjama Foundation, so kids like me can have a special friend.”

There was so much love, laughter and great acts of generosity on the evening, to which we thank each person who attended. It was truly a wonderful night and we are so thankful to have spent it with so many people who are crucial to our foundation.

Thank you for supporting The Pyjama Foundation’s Big Dreams Gala Ball, we couldn’t have pulled it off without your support and we hope to see you all again next year.