By Peter Oglos.
In NSW alone, there are around 100,000 young carers under the age of 25. Responsible for the well-being of their ill or disabled parents or siblings, many of them don’t have toys to play with at home or are able to enjoy their childhoods.
Margaret Skagias, founder and director of ‘CaringKids’, was motivated four years ago to make sure that these children are able to enjoy their youth while taking care of their family members from home.
“We’ve recycled half a tonne of toys over the last three years and our toy boxes have travelled over 50,000 km around Australia,” Margaret Skagias said to The Greek Herald.
“It’s that one moment where you can make that difference”
Coming from a background of social work, Margaret says that prior to starting CaringKids, she used to take young carers of special needs siblings on camps.
“I used to take around 60 kids from all over NSW and 20 volunteers and we used to take them away for around 5 days,” Margaret said.
“We let them be children and do fun things like archery and swimming and sport and just let them have a break from home.”
According to the 2016 census, approximately 9% or 4,900 young carers in NSW identify as primary carers, meaning that there are at least 4,900 children who don’t get to play sport or do a physical activity. Instead, Margaret says, the children are responsible for cooking, cleaning, housework, or taking care of their siblings.
“When their parents pass on and there’s someone in the family with a disability, or if it’s their brother and sister, many of these kids end up taking the responsibility for the rest of their lives,” Margaret points out.
“I just felt like nobody was really noticing them enough, so six years ago I decided to start CaringKids.”
CaringKids is a registered charity and toy recycling social enterprise dedicated to providing bespoke Toy Boxes for children who care for disabled or chronically ill family members. All the Toy Boxes are specially hand-picked and packed by the CaringKids staff and volunteers to match the unique interests of every child they support.
“The kids love to get them…. When they get home from school or look at their doorstep and on the doorstep is a big box, like a big lucky dip, of all these things and has something special just for them.”
With every toy sent out, Margaret feels another step has been made in raising awareness and providing aid to young carers. However, the CaringKids founder says there’s still a long way to go in making sure these children are properly taken care of.
“I find that the more toy boxes I send out, the more people start thinking about these children,” Margaret says.
“So there’s the bit about giving them the toy box, which they enjoy and love, but it’s also about getting people to remember that these kids are really young and providing support to someone in the family with a disability.
“A lot of people show concern, of course, for the person who’s sick, but then the person who is caring for them goes through a lot as well.
“There’s a lot of implications for these kids and I’m hoping by us making the toy boxes and spreading awareness, it gets people thinking on how they can help.”
CaringKids is also responsible for toy recycling, which involves transforming toys, which would have otherwise been thrown in the trash, into products that the children can enjoy.
“We save lots of toys from going into the bin by recycling them and giving them new life,” Margaret adds.
Due to her incredible work, Margaret and her charity have been nominated for the Westfield ‘Local Heroes’ initiative, allowing the public to vote on who should receive a $10,000 grant for their affiliated organisation.
“If we’re successful, the grant will help us send out almost 200 toy boxes to children across Australia,” Margaret says.
“It would also mean we would recycle about 8000 pre-loved toys and save them from land fill.”
With her toy boxes reaching all corners of Australia, her charity caters for young carers across the country. Margaret’s incredible charity has been supported by the entire Australian community, with volunteers and workers allowing it to grow and prosper.
“It’s just that one moment where you can make that difference, and I do that with all the volunteers that help me, or the mums and dads that give toys, or the community behind me, so obviously I don’t do it all alone and I have a lot of people that care.”
“There’s still a long way to go but I’m happy that we’ve been able to do something like this for them because they’re worth it.”