Main Image: Pyjama Angels spend time building literacy and numeracy skills with foster children (Supplied, The Pyjama Foundation). Listen: Elizabeth Melvin speaks about her volunteering work with foster kids.
If you’re a child in foster care the odds are stacked against you from an early age.
Their literacy and numeracy suffers, with a whopping 92% of kids in care classified as reading at a low level.
Three out of four foster kids don’t finish school, which can have an impact on the career paths they pursue.
Elizabeth Melvin has been a Pyjama Angel with The Pyjama Foundation for ten years and has just been recognized for her volunteer work, winning the Volunteer Award Category at this year’s Queensland Child Protection Week Awards.
Elizabeth told 96five that the other reality for children in care is that their foster parents calendars fill up extremely quickly.
“Most children, because they’re vulnerable, have special appointments so the parents become really busy people. To have someone come in to the house for one on one time, it’s so beneficial for both the child and the foster parents.”
Founded in 2004 by Bronwyn Sheehan, The Pyjama Foundation helps children in care achieve their dreams, through an educational program known as the Love of Learning Program.
This program sees Pyjama Angels like Elizabeth spending an hour or two a week with a foster child, mentoring them with a focus on learning based activities.
Elizabeth said that with the alarming statistics around literacy, reading was at the top of the list.
“My boy in foster care is 10 years old and needs to improve his reading, so we look at ways to help him but in a fun way. Our favourite activity to do is cooking because that means reading, organizing and learning patience; it’s a really great way of introducing reading without it being intimidating.”
One of the most important outcomes of the Pyjama Angel program is building trust and connection over a long period of time.
“The aim is to walk with that child for as long as possible; the whole idea of that one on one mentorship is that you are just there for that child, with their best interests in mind.”
Being named as an award winner in the Child Protection Week Awards came as a complete shock, with Elizabeth saying she hopes the award can further the work of the Pyjama Foundation.
“I was quite amazed because there are so many incredible volunteers, not just in the Pyjama Foundation, but volunteers working with children across Queensland. I’m very humbled, but I’m glad for the Pyjama Foundation as they’re such a great organization to work with. I hope this means that more people will decide to become a Pyjama Angel and support foster children, as many people don’t realise the opportunities available as a volunteer within the sector.”
Long time 7NEWS anchor Kay McGrath is well known for her advocacy and support of child protection agencies over many years.
The veteran journalist first became involved in child protection whilst working as a police reporter in the early 1980’s.
Kay told 96five that she couldn’t say no to becoming involved in a new non government organisation to help children and families affected by child abuse and neglect.
“Having covered many sad stories involving vulnerable kids, I couldn’t walk away from the opportunity to be involved in PACT (Protect All Children Today). The catalyst for PACT was a sexual assault of a beautiful 4-year-old girl by a trusted friend of her family. They were shattered by what had happened and felt hopeless when told they had little chance of justice through the legal system. Instead, they bravely chose to help establish an organisation to help others – it’s been an absolute privilege to stay involved with the org and I also keep in touch with the family. My on-going mantra is – if I can make a difference in just one life, it will be worthwhile.”
Kay is the ambassador for this year’s Child Protection Week, and said that it is important we recognise the work that those on the frontline undertake.
“While working, on a daily basis, to help others who’ve been dealt a bad card in life is truly rewarding, it can also be extremely draining. Their work is often vital. It can make the difference between life and death and it can certainly improve the lives of children and their families. To make a career in this challenging space takes a special kind of empathy and grit. These people don’t go to work looking for accolades, but when they arrive I’m sure they’re most appreciated.”
After ten years of volunteering Elizabeth Melvin is keen to see others get involved, and says that it can be easier than most people think.
“You can make birthday cards, as we’re trying to give each child a hand made card on their birthday. There are people who work in our library, organising our books and other resources. We run many fundraising events such as dinners and quiz nights so there’s space to volunteer there as well. Another great way to get involved is if your employer or company has a program internally that encourages volunteering. They can pick the Pyjama Foundation as their group to volunteer with.”
If you’d like more information on becoming a Pyjama Angel, fundraising with The Pyjama Foundation or getting your school or business involved with the annual Pyjama Day fundraiser, go to The Pyjama Foundation website.