Innovative program Paw Pals is helping disengaged young people return to school with the use of therapy dogs.

In the three years to 2021, there has been a 50 per cent increase in the rate of students not attending school in Victoria and Mackillop Family Services’ Paw Pals program has supported over 650 kids get back to school in the five years it has been running.

Anne Henderson, Education Director at Mackillop, said finding strategies that encourage kids back to learning is not straightforward.

“These young people are dealing with issues that can range from problems in their family, living with anxiety, being in out of home care or struggling to go into class after spending a considerable time learning remotely.

“When other tried and tested interventions fail, a therapy dog can be the key to making that special connection with a child. Once a child has bonded with a paw pal, they are more open to working with an education facilitator who can help with strategies to boost their confidence and improve their interaction with classmates and teachers.”

Mackillop’s Paw Pals program is funded 100 per cent by the community and on Thursday 27 April its annual matched giving day, Paws4Kids, will be taking place to raise a target of $350,000.

All donations made on or before 27 April will be doubled by matching partners such as The Petspiration Foundation.

Sherralea Cassidy, Charity and Events Lead at The Petspiration Foundation, said they are a proud partner of Mackillop family services.

“Mackillop’s Paw Pals program is such an important initiative, and by doubling every dollar donated to Paws4Kids to help reach their fundraising goal of $350,000, we hope we can make a meaningful difference to the lives of people who need our support to get back into the classroom and continue learning.”

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