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"Unprecedented" demand from children fleeing unsafe homes during pandemic: charity


A South Australian charity which provides essential supplies to children entering the child protection system or escaping domestic violence says demand for its service has doubled during the pandemic due to an “unprecedented” rise in the number of young people fleeing dangerous living situations.

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Backpacks 4 SA Kids, which works with the Department for Human Services, SA Police and other not-for-profit organisations to provide haversacks of basic items such as clothing, toys, toiletries and books to vulnerable children across the state, says it has already spent its entire 2020 budget and is now asking the public to help it meet excess demand.

Founder Rachael Zaltron said in April and May last year her Para Hills West-based charity supplied 498 backpacks to children in need, but over the same period this year during the peak COVID-19 lockdown it handed out 1021 packs. 

InDaily reported last month the state’s top domestic violence body Women’s Safety Services SA recorded a 15 per cent increase in demand for emergency accommodation over the COVID-19 lockdown period.

Department for Child Protection statistics show the number of children in care jumped from 4241 in February to 4312 in May.

The spikes are correlated to heightened pressure in the community from job losses, isolation and anxiety about the coronavirus pandemic, with more children at risk of experiencing exacerbated domestic violence or abuse at home while locked-down with perpetrators.

Zaltron said the Backpacks 4 SA Kids’ supplies were already depleted after the January bushfires and despite receiving a state government grant to help replenish stocks at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the charity has struggled to cope with a “skyrocketing” surge in demand.

“We were predicting we would do 6000 this year in backpacks alone – that’s not including our other programs – and normally our end of year is much bigger than our beginning of the year,” she said.

“Last year we did 4682 for the year and we are only 1000 off that figure now at the end of July. 

“We are very aware of the fact that we’re in extreme demand with very little help at the moment.

“There’s no precedent to this at this level.”

Zaltron said the increased demand for backpacks was largely due to a “substantial” surge in the number of young people accessing youth homelessness services, or children presenting at domestic violence services with their families.

She said usually Backpacks 4 SA Kids provided most of its backpacks to children in the 10 to 16 age group, but since the coronavirus pandemic demand had increased in all age brackets.

“It is a significant worry to see how many kids are now coming through this system,” she said. 

Department for Child Protection CEO Cathy Taylor said authorities were monitoring the impacts of coronavirus on child protection notifications “closely” and would respond to any emerging trends.

“With the coronavirus placing additional pressures on families, it is important the entire community continues to support vulnerable parents, children and young people,” she said.

To help meet respond to the increase in demand for its service, Backpacks 4 SA Kids has sought the help of national charity Pinchapoo to collect donated supplies from the public and donations of goods from the private sector.

The partnership will cover a $20,000 shortfall in funding for the backpack supplies.

But both charities say they still need the public to donate essential supplies including clothing, books, craft materials and hygiene products, to fill demand.  

“Our biggest need areas are pyjamas, winter jumpers – we tend to get a lot of pants donated but not the jumpers – and then really simple little things like colouring books, crayons, textas,” Zaltron said.

“They seem so simple and a bit useless but for these kids it becomes a real wellbeing moment when they can just switch off and use those items just to balance themselves out. 

“While they are very little cost they have a really big impact on these kids.”

To find out how and where to donate visit the Backpacks 4 SA Kids or Pinchapoo websites.

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