Posted by Vince Costantino on Aug 24, 2019
The Rotary Club of Pinjarra welcomed guest speaker Sarah Clancy last Thursday evening. Sarah was introduced to the meeting by David Caldwell.
With her sister Rachael, Sarah Clancy launched an initiative called “Care Bags” to support vulnerable children going into care earlier last year (2018). It has been running for 15 months to support children entering out-of-home care.  There are 5029 children in out-of-home care in WA;  48% are homed within their kinship group, while the other 52% are homed with foster carers or in residential care.  In Western Australia, there are 3 children per day going into care.  These are children who have experienced physical abuse, emotional abuse, abuse due to domestic or family violence, sexual abuse or neglect.
 “There has been a fantastic response to date but we are trying to spread the word to be able to assist even more vulnerable children,” she said. Sarah has embraced the use of social media in order to raise awareness about the Group. Their Facebook group, ‘Care Bags – because children in care matter’ has now achieved a following of more than 4500.
Collectively the active members of the group have packed and donated Care Bags to the West Australian Department of Child Protection and Family Support (CPFS) so that the packs are available to distribute to children at the time they come into foster care. Sarah's home has become the administration office,warehouse, packing centre, and distribution centre for the group. The Mens Shed group located in her area have assisted by building cupboards and shelving for a number of rooms in Sarah's home.
“Children enter care often under circumstances that can be quite traumatic with at times the child having little more than the clothes they are wearing,” Sarah said. “Our aim is that every child who enters care receives a care bag to provide them with comfort, but more importantly, a message that someone cares. We want kids to have enough to get through the first couple of days.”
The care bags consist of:
  • Backpack (filled with the following items)
  • Toothbrush and Toothpaste
  • Hair Brush
  • Pyjamas
  • 2 x outfits of clothing, including underwear and socks
  • At least one “comfort item”
Sarah said the comfort items could be a soft toy such as a teddy bear with a blanket, journal, a story book, toy or colouring-in pencils and books.
An example of a "Care Bag"
"Picture children, siblings of 5, 8 and 10 years of age being picked up from school by someone they’ve never met and taken somewhere they’ve never been before to live, with little more than the clothes that they’re in.  They will be totally reliant on this stranger for everything they need.  This experience is scary and strange, and to compound the situation, siblings have to be separated.  A Care Bag - backpack of age and gender-matched items including toiletries, pyjamas, two outfits, a soft toy and at least one comfort item (book, colouring-in materials, toy) that the child can take "ownership of" makes a big difference to how they feel in this situation.  As this provides for the child's immediate material needs, it then gives the carer a chance to focus on the children’s immediate emotional needs", said Sarah.
The items in the Care Bag are all new.  The power of a toy to a young child is significant.  Imagine a child being driven round the metro area while a host family is arranged, having been separated from his/her siblings.  A bag of goodies makes a small difference at a very traumatic and confusing time.  Even combs, toothbrush and toothpaste are valued by these kids, and some show great enthusiasm for the novelty of brushing their teeth.  Sarah gave an example of a 9 year old boy who’d never owned jocks before;   another little boy bonded with "Blue Dog", a soft toy which helped him sleep and feel secure; and for another little girl, "Flamingo" was a small, good memory from an otherwise traumatic day.  With careful shopping, a bag can be sourced and filled for $40. 
Sarah said the Group had already distributed bags to child protection offices across Perth and to the 38 regional offices of the Department across the State, from Kalgoorlie in the east, Kununurra to the north, and Albany in the south, so that they are on site for when they are needed. "The regional areas probably have a greater need for the Care Bags to be "on-site" than the cities, because the access to shops is less,” she said. This is especially so when one considers that a child may be taken into care at any time of the day or night, depending on the individual circumstances. Sarah observed that some 3800 Care Bags have been given to the Department so far. 
The generosity of individual sponsors has not only enabled the group to access items with which to fill a Care Bag, but also to transport the bags into the regional areas. These various regional offices of CPFS will have a variety of Care Bags on hand, packed with clothing and other contents to suit the gender, age and size of the particular child who may require support.
Sarah is currently applying for "Not For Profit" status for the initiative.  She manages all this on top of her job of 16 years as a child support worker for the Department of Child Protection and Family Support.  Her experience as a frontline worker has shown that while it makes a great difference to have a gift available to give to the child, it also saves a lot of worry for the worker (needing to source the emergency supplies).  A Care Bag won’t change the world but it will change the world of the child who receives it.
The initiative is supported by community donation drives, contributions of money and packs by individuals.  Many schools and day care centres have supported the group.  Community awareness is critical to ensure much needed support, and to assist the sourcing of future sponsorship. Spme individuals like to put together a bag which they donate to the group, and picture the child who will receive it and the difference it will make.
After answering a number of questions from the meeting floor, Rotarian Bob deBijl thanked Sarah for informing the Club members about her group. Bob presented Sarah with a gift in recognition of her talk. He noted that the service that “Care Bags– because children in care matter” provides fills a gaps that exists at a time which may be the most traumatic in an affected child’s life. We wish Sarah and her Group all the very best in the future.