Alarmed by the statistics highlighting poor literacy and numeracy levels of children in care, and how this contributes to a lifetime of disadvantage, Bronwyn Sheehan made a decision – a decision to offer hope and a more positive outlook for these children.
The Pyjama Foundation was founded in 2004 to give children in foster care the opportunity to change the direction of their lives with learning, life skills, and confidence.
Through a simple program known as the Love of Learning Program, volunteers called Pyjama Angels are matched with a child in care, and spend just one hour a week focusing on learning based activities.
Below, we take five with this brilliant founder to chat about the incredible work she’s doing.
How was The Pyjama Foundation Started?
15-years-ago I met an 18-month-old baby who had just entered the foster care system, arriving with nothing but the clothes he was wearing and a plastic bag. He was covered in bruises, clinging to his foster carer. It was this moment when I decided to create a community initiative where members can contribute to help these vulnerable children and their amazing foster carers, in order to change the direction of their lives.
Why do you do what you do, what impact do you hope to make?
Children in the foster care system form the lowest pool of educational attainment in Australia. 92% of foster children are below the average reading level at age seven, 75% of these children do not finish high school and 50% of the homeless come from a care background. Research also tells us the cost to society of not adequately supporting foster children has been estimated at almost $740,000 per child, due to subsequent justice system, welfare and mental health expenses.
The Pyjama Foundation developed The Love of Learning Program in order to support children in foster care to improve their educational and life outcomes. To achieve this aim, the program recruits volunteer adult mentors, called Pyjama Angels, who visit a child in foster care each week and engage them in learning based activities and educational play. We would like to instigate a more inclusive community where foster children are equal to their peers. If a vulnerable child can be empowered by education, then they are in the unique position to define their own future, despite what life has previously given them.
What has been one of the best moments in your journey so far?
Two years ago, I had the honour of going to one of our foster children’s University graduations. Narissa had worked with her beautiful Pyjama Angel Ani for many years and has achieved incredible things despite her difficult past. When I saw her in her gown, I couldn’t hold back the tears. It was an incredibly defining moment for me and our Foundation.
How can people support your cause?
There are many opportunities for people to support our Foundation throughout the year. Most significantly is our National Pyjama Day fundraising campaign which is held on July 19 this year. We encourage everyone to gather their workmates or children’s school and get them to hold their own fundraising day. All funds raised from this day go directly back into helping us expand our Love of Learning Program. For more information or to register, please visit: www.nationalpyjamaday.com.
Equally as important, if anybody would like to become a Pyjama Angel volunteer we are always on the search for more wonderful people to join us. Volunteers commit to working with a child in the foster care system one hour a week for a 12-month period. For more information or to submit an application, please visit: www.thepyjamafoundation.com/volunteer.