MacKillop Family Services is running the Paws4Kids campaign on Thursday 28 April to raise funds for the expansion of its therapy dog program.

Every dollar donated will be tripled by MacKillop’s supporters such as PETstock Assist, with a goal of raising $330,000 in 24 hours which would allow the program to expand to Ballarat.

Sarah Castle, Coordinator of the Paw Pals program, said the program transformed the lives of kids who were previously disengaged with education.

“The program is reaching students in a way that teachers, on their own, cannot. It’s presenting a solution to the challenge of engaging kids who are struggling to learn in school, something that we’re seeing more and more, particularly as schools have transitioned from home-learning back into the classroom.”

Castle said they know the program works and that there are so many children who need it, but they are unable to meet the demand.

“Funds raised through the Paws4Kids campaign will allow us to reach more of the young people who need this support to return to learning.”

Cass Dunn, Paws4Kids Ambassador and clinical and coaching psychologist, said we are only just beginning to understand the mental health toll that the last two years of disrupted schooling has had on children.

“Therapy dogs support children with social and emotional learning needs to develop self-regulation skills. A child who struggles with anxiety or trauma can find it easier to develop a bond with a therapy dog than with an adult. In working with the dog, they learn to regulate their emotions so they are better able to interact with their teachers and peers.

“The Paw Pals program has made a huge difference to kids who struggle to learn in a classroom, and it would be great to see the program expand to reach so many others who need additional support so they too can stay engaged with the learning.”

Eleven-year-old Amber, who has an autism diagnosis and lives with a sensory processing disorder, was unable to even walk through her school gates but after just a short time working with the MacKillop Family Services’ Paw Pals program, Amber was able to go back into the classroom when she was accompanied by one of the therapy dogs.

Peta, Amber’s mum, said Paw Pals has been a complete lifeline for Amber and that Amber is now a happy child and that this is the first program that has truly engaged her.

“The magic happens because the facilitators and therapy dogs accompany Amber into the classroom. She is supported in the moment to manage the things that are the most difficult for her – that’s what makes such a difference. Amber feels supported by her safety plan to help her remain calm and regulate her emotions while the Paw Pals facilitators engage her in learning activities involving the therapy dog.”

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