Since 2013, local charity Kids in Care has become well-known for its toy drive, spreading cheer amongst children and teenagers in crisis across the ACT, who would otherwise go without on Christmas Day.
But in recent years, Kids in Care’s work has expanded well beyond 25 December.
ACT Policing Detective Senior Constable Alex Uren, a member of the charity’s board, explained the organisation now supplies gifts for birthdays and special events, as well as Go Bags full of thoughtfully chosen essential items for the first 24 hours a child enters emergency or crisis care in the ACT.
“Those children include kids with foster carers, emergency carers, people providing temporary accommodation, extended families looking after children and other families that might be struggling a little,” she said.
Speaking at the handover of thousands of dollars’ worth of presents and cash donations hosted by Icon Water today (10 December), Kids in Care chairperson Steve Hill and wife Colleen Hill knew first-hand how special a toy or a toothbrush could be to a child in need.
Together, the couple have fostered over 30 newborn babies with disabilities or drug issues over the past 12 years, and Mrs Hill said she’ll keep doing it as long as she can.
“I only lasted three weeks in retirement. I said, ‘No, I’m going to go and foster’ and I’ve been doing it ever since,” she said.
Throughout her career, Mrs Hill worked with people with disabilities and in palliative care, and Mr Hill was a police officer in South Australia for nearly 40 years.
It was Mrs Hill’s idea to expand Kids in Care to provide Go Bags for emergencies, an initiative she had already rolled out with care agencies in SA and NSW before moving to Canberra.
“It keeps me busy because the kids come with nothing,” she said.
A Go Bag for a newborn needs nappies, a jumpsuit to sleep in, underwear, toiletries, a bottle and more.
Older kids get a toy, a book, colouring in and essentials like pyjamas, a change of clothes and toiletries.
“We get a lot of joy out of it, and I know it’s a big thing when they get the Go Bags,” Mrs Hill said.
In one ‘thank you’ letter, a police officer wrote that when they gave Go Bags to three children aged up to 12 years old, they realised the children had never seen a toothbrush or a drink bottle.
“It’s an important thing for them to be treated the same as everybody else,” she said.
“It shouldn’t be that they’re actually named ‘foster children’ because they’re just beautiful kids, they’re beautiful babies.
“It’s just an unfortunate situation that they’ve been born into.”
Kids in Care began when ACT Policing Detective Sergeant John Giles, the charity’s founder, attended an incident involving four small children who had to be taken into care.
“At that time, we spoke to Care and Protection and we said, ‘Well at least we know these kids will get something for Christmas.’”
It was then the police officers learned there was no budget to provide presents for children in foster care.
“So, we decided to make sure we did something about that, and we put on a Christmas for those four little children.
“But we actually collected more than we could give these kids and we went back and said ‘Could you use more?’”
Seven years later, Kids in Care has grown to support 600 children and teenagers in crisis and emergency care during the festive season.
“I could never foresee how much it would grow.”
“But while there is a need for it, while there is a demand for it, I’m glad it has grown and I’m glad that there are no children in the ACT that go without on Christmas Day.”
Mr Hill said it was a challenging year for charity fundraising all over the country, and he wasn’t sure whether Kids in Care would hit its target this year.
He thanked various supporters including major sponsor Icon Water, and Big W, which sets up Giving Trees and giftwrapping stations in-store, for rallying to ensure Kids in Care could continue providing for the community.
Icon Water executive Davina McCormick said “we know those children deserve better”.
But not all the charity’s supporters come from the business sector, something Mr Hill was reminded of while volunteering at a fundraising stall.
“I was at Gungahlin on the weekend and I had a little five-year-old girl come up to me with a book, a brand-new book she’d gone and bought from Big W herself,” he said.
“And she wanted to put it under the giving tree to make sure another young child had a good Christmas, because she has a great one every year.”