CaringKids & GDI: Recognising the Role of Young Carers
April 2022, Banksmeadow NSW
There are over 235,000 children and teenagers in Australia caring for a disabled or chronically ill family member. On average they spend 6 hours a week on caring duties. Because of their caring commitments, 22% of young carers miss a day of school per week. As a result they are around 1.5 years behind in NAPLAN.
In order to look after a family member, young carers put caring before study, school and play time. These young carers take on tasks such as housework, shopping, cooking, dealing with health professionals and even taking on financial matters. They often have to cope with the financial hardship that goes hand in hand with the cost of caring for a family member living with a disability.
Enter... CaringKids. CaringKids is a registered charity that recognises the role of these young carers and works to reduce their feelings of loneliness and social isolation by sending them Toy Boxes, also called Joy Boxes, packed with toys, games and books. Since foundation, CaringKids has recovered 12,000+ toys from landfill, donated 8,000+ toys and sent toy boxes a cumulative 160,000+ km all across the country.
GDI conducted an impact measurement project with CaringKids led by GDI Fellow (Project Leader) Shakeel Lala and GDI volunteer Ashish Chopra, and the story and the lessons of this collaboration were shared with the wider network of GDI volunteers in a recent April 2022 learning & development (L&D) seminar for the GDI network: co-led by CaringKids CEO and Founder, Margaret Skagias.
NFPs often lack the technical expertise and outcome focused mindset to measure impact. Moreover, NFPs can’t generally afford sufficient skilled labour to complete a project. Thus, we were thrilled with the opportunity to collaborate with Margaret to work on a project that would have lasting value.
At the GDI L&D session, Shak noted that it is important to start by ensuring that pro-bono organisations like GDI orient ourselves around the right foundations and firstly understand the vision and goals of the NFP’s we work with. These questions stem down to two points:
What drives their organisation
What is their vision and purpose?
What are their goals?
Listen to their needs
What would a good outcome look like for them?
Are they looking to use the output for anything in particular?
The value add for a GDI project is then to balance what the NFP needs with what we have the skills, time and expertise to deliver. Often this centres on something that is technically meaningful (but is often not complex) and has high strategic value. Shak also noted the importance of then testing and refining the project plan and solution with the NFP over time, ensuring comfort with the tools being used.
Margaret’s story with CaringKids is an inspiring one. As a former social worker with a background in public health, she had worked with young carers before. “What led me to create CaringKids was that I recognised that some children were missing out on some of the fun and the childhood experiences that many children get to experience and take for granted when they are not carers.” In March this year Margaret Skagias was named the ‘2022 Coogee Local Woman of the Year’ in recognition of her community work supporting young carers.
The “joy boxes”, containing puzzles, books, sports equipment etc. are designed to create fun and moments of enjoyment for children and also address some of the challenges of financial hardship that these children experience. But, prior to working with GDI, CaringKids didn’t know what kids (and parents) thought of these joy boxes, despite best efforts to provide a mix of engaging activities that encouraged kids to play, read and write. This was largely due to a lack of resources and capacity of the charity and the challenges of dealing with the everyday.
Margaret was on a Facebook group for social entrepreneurs in 2020 when she happened to see a profile for the Good Data Institute and she put up her hand. “I knew how important data is to charities and without it, how difficult it is to share stories with your supporters, your donors and for grant applications to really demonstrate what you are doing and why you are doing what you are doing”.
From there, we launched into a pro-bono D&A project. The two pillars of the GDI impact measurement project were to a) understand and visualise the data CaringKids already had access to (on boxes sent, location, distance travelled etc) and b) off the back of that, to create a mechanism to build and visualise additional impact data based on Google Form surveys to toy box recipients (investigating the value of the box to the recipient and the satisfaction with the toys themselves etc.).
“For the first task, we received de-identified raw toy box order form data that included origin address, destination address, courier cost and box weight. We then used custom Google Maps function in Google Sheets to calculate longitude and latitude and driving distance between the two addresses. This enabled us to calculate how far tox boxes had travelled in total to their destinations and also visualise on a dashboard where in Australia toy boxes had been sent” Shak commented.
The survey process was done in collaboration across the two organisations. “The opportunity for CaringKids to actually ask the questions to parents that we always wanted to know was amazing and a real eye opener for us.” Margaret mentioned. The unintended consequence of this undertaking was the realisation that CaringKids needed to move into the cloud and shift from excel spreadsheets to Google Sheets and from word forms to Google Forms for surveys. "The penny dropped that we need to change the whole way we were storing and keeping our data as a whole organisation and we subsequently moved into the Google Cloud workspace and have pretty much not looked back!”
This information was then visualised in an interactive dashboard form for CaringKids. Shak stated that “the aim of the dashboard was to bring that survey information back to CaringKids in a clear and digestible manner.” The ability of the dashboard to quantify progress was also very important for CaringKids. “If you have a look at the kilometres travelled by toy boxes and also the courier cost, as calculated and showcased by the dashboard, this provided an important realisation that this was a manageable process going forward for us.” Margaret noted. The dashboard also highlighted the most common health conditions among family recipients of the toy boxes. “If we know what kinds of disabilities and illnesses are more prevalent, we can tailor our boxes even further, or perhaps include certain information in the boxes to support the families.”
“What we had before was really just a stack of order forms, but we weren’t really able to understand as much as what we could, and especially compared to a visual (dashboard) like this. We were just starting off so we don’t really have the bigger sets of data that larger charities have, but it opened our eyes to the possibilities of what we could achieve, and definitely made a big impact on us.” — Margaret Skagias
One final benefit of the collaboration was that the dashboard and impact measurement project led to a very important partnership. “We have a wonderful story from the other day when a first-time visitor to our Toy Workshop saw us in action making our toy boxes. They asked us some questions about our logistics, operations and geographical reach, and then offered their support through a corporate partnership on the spot.”
“To have a person come in and for me to be able to articulate where our boxes are going and how far they’ve travelled caught their imagination, and they wanted to get behind us. When you have data, the story speaks for itself. If you are a charity, you have to understand your data, it makes a big difference to everything you do” — Margaret Skagias
CaringKids are now approaching circa 400 toy boxes delivered around the country, which is around 16,000 toys delivered. Every child deserves to enjoy the fun and carefree moments that we associate with childhood. So nothing makes us prouder than knowing that we have helped bring a little joy to the lives of young carers with adult responsibilities.
At its core, GDI is about bringing together a community of phenomenal people to think differently about the power of data. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help your NFP organisation or apply for the next intake of volunteers into our network, you can learn more about the Good Data Institute here: www.gooddatainstitute.com
About Caring Kids
CaringKids helps children burdened with adult responsibilities. These young carers take on tasks such as housework, shopping, cooking, dealing with health professionals and even taking on financial matters. We help to bring joy to children caring for a family member living with a disability by delivering Toy Boxes to young carers. Our Joy Boxes are packed with toys, games and books that not only bring joy, but also allow children to learn and grow.
GDI unlocks the power of data within Australian and NZ not for profits. Our 120+ data analytics volunteers work for companies including Microsoft, BCG and Google and empower charities to increase efficiency, automate processes and increase impact. GDI volunteer teams have worked with over 40 NFPs, across large and small organisations – including Opportunity International, the NZ Red Cross, The Hunger Project, the NSW Nature Conservation Council, Inclusive America, and Caring Kids. Learn more about our community at www.gooddatainstitute.com