Jackie French, author and former Children’s Laureate, knows that books have the power to change lives.
“When you read a book, you become those characters. When children finish the pages, they have lived that book,” French said.
“Reading is extraordinarily important in terms of brain development and in terms of understanding ourselves and our worlds and other people.”
Children’s author Jackie French is helping to close the education gap for children in out-of-home care. Credit:James Brickwood
The author of children’s books including the bestselling Diary of a Wombat and young adult fiction, French is one of a host of Australian writers getting involved with the new Hook into Books campaign. Run by foster care organisation Life Without Barriers, it aims to foster a love of reading and learning, to help close the education gap for children in out-of-home-care.
The program will offer activities such as book clubs and virtual storytimes with the authors, including Ursula Dubosarsky and Gregg Dreise, as well as providing books and learning resources for carers.
“I say yes to anything that gets books to kids who need them, particularly at this time when every child needs books and particularly for kids who may not have access to them,” French said.
Life Without Barriers figures show close to 45,000 children are in out-of-home care in Australia. Children in out-of-home care are struggling to reach national literacy and numeracy benchmarks with 92 per cent below the national reading level at age seven.
Chief executive Claire Robbs said simple moments reading a book could make a huge difference in the whole course of a child’s life.
“We know their outcomes differ. When they miss out on education opportunities, that then leaves them more at risk of becoming involved in the criminal justice system, it fundamentally reduces their earning potential and then their financial independence as adults and then as parents themselves,” Ms Robbs said.
“Children in out-of-home care have often experienced some traumatic events in life. It’s not an even playing field and let’s not pretend it is. This is about raising our hopes, raising our sights for these kids, and letting the children know we believe in them.”
She said many people could remember the special nature of times spent reading as children and as parents, and that vulnerable kids deserved these experiences, too.
“All those gorgeous moments — it’s about the reading and literacy but also about sharing that joy and creating those memories,” she said.
Early intervention and preventative measures are key to helping vulnerable children thrive.
Writing for The Age in May after research showed more disadvantaged children missing out on kindergarten, opposition spokesman for early childhood and child protection Matthew Bach said more needed to be done to ensure these children were supported.
“As a former foster care baby who had a wonderful kinder experience, I know early childhood education is absolutely critical for vulnerable kids,” he said
This year’s Victorian budget included $400.7 million to roll out three-year-old kindergarten statewide, build and expand more kindergartens and support vulnerable young children.
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