Backpacks making a difference to children in need

20 October 2016

Written by: Katherine McLeod

Backpacks 4 SA Kids aims to help children adapt to life in foster care, writes Katherine McLeod.

Backpacks 4 SA Kids is a charity that provides clothes and personal supplies to South Australian children that have been placed into emergency foster care, or shelters.

The backpacks aim to relieve some of the uncertainty that children face when they are removed from their family, often in traumatic situations and without the opportunity to take any personal belongings with them.

“A friend of mine and I started collecting items and putting together backpacks ourselves. And very quickly our friendship groups decided to donate their items and we created more backpacks than we thought possible, putting together over 500 backpacks in the first year,” founder and head coordinator Rachael Zaltron tells upstart.

“The backpacks help take a little bit of the stress and anxiety out of being removed from their homes and not knowing where they are going to get basic items like toiletries, pyjamas, and clothing.”

In 2011, 583 children were removed from their houses, and placed into South Australian care, while 2,368 children between the ages of newborn and 17 years old were living out of home in foster care or protective facilities.

Often, children who receive the backpacks have been taken from their families without any belongings. Sometimes this is because they never had personal items to begin with, or they were not allowed to bring anything with them into care facilities.

Rachael believes that the backpacks serve as a comfort for the children during their removal.

“The backpacks also help distract the children from the extreme situation they find themselves in. At the top of each backpack is a cuddle toy, activities and colouring items for the children to be able to immediately access,” she says.

“We have received feedback from caseworkers that indicate the backpacks help to minimise the trauma the children face when being removed in particular in emergency situations.”

As far as funding is concerned, the charity has not received any government funding to date. They run on donations, and the good will of volunteers to stay in business. They run a Facebook page that allows supporters to see which items are needed most, and where they can be dropped off.

“We work as a team with the agencies in need of our backpacks, donators, supporters, drop off points and our central team who ensure everything happens to a high standard. Every part of our team is essential to ensure we can make as much of a difference as possible for the kids in need within our community,” Zaltron says.

While all items included in the backpacks are important, Rachael believes those that give the children something to focus on are vital.

“I tend to think the age appropriate DVD is the most useful because it can create a familiar surrounding for children to sit and lose themselves especially when they are moved often,” she says.

“Caseworker’s feedback indicates the torch is the most important item as it helps orientate kids at night time. Carers love the clothing and underwear including pyjamas that provide an extra simple comfort most of these kids have not had before.”

Since the beginning of 2016, Backpacks 4 SA Kids has been able to pack 1,809 backpacks.

“Since the quiet and slow beginnings of just a couple of mums wanting to make a difference, we are now a medium sized organisation with multiple drop off points, a huge supporter base and a backpack that is now extremely effective and more useful for our South Australian kids and community,” Zaltron says.

“When we first launched as Backpacks 4 SA Kids we only supplied backpacks for kids in foster care, we now supply backpacks also to domestic violence shelters and youth homeless shelters and are very excited about the possibilities of the amount of kids we can help in the future.”

You can donate to Backpacks for SA kids here.

Katherine-McleodWeb_thumbKatherine McLeod is a third year journalism student at La Trobe University and a staff writer for upstart. Twitter: @kattt_mcleod