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No child left behind

Children lying on carpet wearing costumes

SOME children find it difficult to make friends, especially those living with special needs or disadvantage.

Some parents know all too well, if their child doesn’t get invited to parties or their peers don’t show up to theirs, the heartbreak is very real.

Mum Louise Larkin understands how worrying social isolation can be for children.

Since 2016 her charity Friend in Me has hosted hundreds of parties that bring together children of all ages and abilities to help connect them through dance and play.

Many parents and caregivers are grateful for the all-inclusive and diverse events; including Donna, who knows how scary it can be as a parent of a child with special needs.

Donna’s family used to avoid parties and events with large crowds, concerned her son would have a meltdown or be excluded by other children.

After attending their first Friend in Me event, they immediately felt accepted and enjoyed the event together without fear of judgement.

“I was scared for what the day would bring but felt blessed to discover there were other families who understood what inclusion truly means,” Donna said.

Another parent, Naomi explained her children often found it difficult to socialise, but since attending the events, their confidence and self-esteem has grown.

“They’re a welcoming place, and my kids feel truly seen,” Naomi said.

Children running on grass with balloons
Image: Kampus Production – Pexels

Ms Larkin has recently reflected on why she continues to feel so passionately about helping children through her charity.

Having lost her father to a mental health condition, Ms Larkin believes her desire to advocate for children’s emotional and mental well-being stems from this experience.

“I’ve seen firsthand the impact of loved ones not feeling a sense of purpose, and how social disconnection can affect their mental health,, Ms Larkin explains.

“I want a different world for my children; for all children.”

Friend in Me’s purpose is to reduce the loneliness and isolation that children can experience.

Whilst this is being achieved through their magical events, barriers to inclusion can often arise through unconscious behaviours of adults, which children naturally imitate.

With this in mind, Ms Larkin is now thinking more broadly, and already working on a plan to make a difference on a bigger scale.

“It’s wonderful that children feel connected during our events, but the real world can be very different,” she said.

“How can we create a world that’s truly inclusive and accepting outside of our events?”

She wants to see inclusiveness expanded throughout the community.

For places children engage with regularly, including football clubs and schools, Ms Larkin is developing the Partners4Change program, which involves educating organisations about how to be socially inclusive, respectful and safe.

With a launch planned for 2022, Partners4Change aims to eventually extend the program into schools, where a combination of interactive workshops and events will be held to educate adults and children about kindness, inclusion and embracing difference.

Ms Larkin hopes the program will have a ripple effect throughout communities, ultimately providing a more supportive world for children.

“My dream is to create a pathway for children to experience a world where people accept and celebrate their uniqueness.”

If you are concerned about yourself or someone you care about, please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or the Kids or Parents Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

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