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Why KidsXpress CEO Margo Ward has made it her mission to help children

Why KidsXpress CEO Margo Ward has made it her mission to help children

We chat to PowerPlayer Margo Ward about changing the lives of children experiencing trauma through abuse, neglect, grief and other childhood traumas.

BY Business Chicks, 12 min READ
 

It’s easy to get overwhelmed trying to solve all the social injustices in the world, but there’s one really easy way you can impact the lives of 12 vulnerable children right now.

Business Chicks Premium member, Margo Ward is the founder of KidsXpress, an organisation dedicated to changing the lives of children experiencing trauma through abuse, neglect, grief and other childhood traumas.

Margo’s federally accredited and evidence-based expressive therapy program has been shortlisted out of more than 450 applicants for the Australian Ethical Community Grant, and we’d love your help to vote for them (it took us 2.5 seconds) to be the final winner. You can head over to the AustEthical’s Community Grant page before voting closes at 5pm Monday July 31st.

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Over 10 years, KidsXpress has grown to support more than 2500 vulnerable children and established themselves as a leader in the field. We asked Margo why she’s made it her mission to help children and how your vote will help some of the most vulnerable members of our community. 

Margo, why have you made it your mission to help children?

I knew at a very early age that I would dedicate my life to finding and supporting those isolated, vulnerable and in pain. After studying as a nurse and teacher my career took me to the UK where I was introduced to the therapeutic concept of ‘Play Therapy’ at Great Ormond Street Hospital. I witnessed the empowerment and impact of providing creativity & play, and despite being in such a sterile environment, the phenomenal therapeutic effects were undeniable. I had found my ‘thing’ and I was hooked! Uniting my qualifications, personal experience and a huge dose of passion, I returned down-under to apply all I had learnt as the Head of Play Therapy at Sydney Children’s Hospital.

While working predominantly with chronically and terminally ill children within Oncology, Palliative Care and ICU, the seed of KidsXpress was sown by my work with children. Through their pain and fear, children would repeatedly talk of an imaginary place, where they could sing, dance and throw paint against the walls. But importantly, there would be people there that would help them work out how they were feeling about what was happening to them and, what was going to happen to them – including dying. After 10 years and with the clear vision from the children in my heart, I left Sydney Children’s Hospital to spend the next 3 years working in suicide prevention. It was working with adults in crisis that cemented the need for the children’s vision to be a reality – a place that would change their life path in the early years. In 2005 KidsXpress finally took flight and today, thousands of children have experienced the transformation that this world first expressive therapy program brings to children, families and communities across Sydney.

Why is the work of KidsXpress so important?

A traumatic experience, or experiences, has a profoundly adverse impact on a child’s still developing brain – disrupting the development of neurological networks so severely that the emotional, social, behavioural, cognitive and physical functioning of a child might be permanently impaired if left unresolved. Tragically, stories of childhood trauma are disturbingly common in Australia – as, in an average Australian classroom of 25 students, there will be at least 5 children currently experiencing unhealthy levels of stress due to a childhood trauma.

In the long-term, unresolved childhood trauma can lead to personal, family and community challenges such as mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse, unemployment, violence, relationship breakdowns and even physical health issues. As a result, childhood maltreatment places considerable pressure on Australia’s healthcare, education, criminal justice, child projection and housing systems, with estimates that more than $9 billion each year is attributed to the total economic costs of unresolved childhood trauma.

KidsXpress exists to minimalise the impact of trauma and in doing so we are creating generational change as we inspire children to thrive regardless of circumstances or what hand life may deal them.

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Can you explain how the Expressive Therapy program helps children?

Children, especially those that have suffered through traumatic events, often find it difficult to verbally express their experiences and feelings. By incorporating music, art, drama, dance and play into the therapeutic process, children aren’t limited by their still developing vocabulary and are instead able to immerse their senses, imaginations and entire bodies into the communication of difficult emotions or experiences.

Throughout the expressive therapy program, children are able to reflect on their life experiences with our team of therapists, navigating through their myriad of emotions. In doing so safely through the creative mediums, we are supporting children in learning how to process their past and present traumatic experiences, build resilience and develop coping strategies for life which will help prevent their current challenges from persisting and worsening as they grow into adults.

How do the changes you see in children completing the program impact their lives long term?

The improvements our program has on the socio-emotional wellbeing of young children can positively change the life trajectories of children – and these changes ripple through a child’s family, classroom, and beyond into the wider community.

A 2015 Deloitte Access Economics (DAE) cost-benefit analysis of KidsXpress found that our early intervention and group therapy program improved the quality of life in each child by an average of almost 50 per cent. Significantly reducing the burden of diseases such as anxiety, depression and many others which develop due to childhood trauma. DAE’s report calculated that in 2015 KidsXpress generated a total benefit for Australian society of $3 million, at a benefit-cost ratio of 2.76 – meaning that for every dollar invested into KidsXpress, our program will generate $2.76 of social value for Australia.

KidsXpress’ research has also found that these benefits flow on into the home and the classroom, supporting the families and schools of participating children as well. Our program research shows that 12 months after completing our program, the vast majority of surveyed parents/carers reported that family relationships had improved and, that referral issues were impacting the family less. Similarly, relationships, behaviour and overall participation at school were also widely reported to have significantly improved.

What is KidsXpress working towards? 

Well let’s be honest, my vision has always been national, then to New Zealand and after that, global sounds like the right thing to do! But I have learnt sustainable growth takes patience and time. Last year, KidsXpress had our most successful year to date, growing our services by more than 60% and reaching more children than we ever had before in one year. Now in 2017 we’re on track to reach even more children, their families and communities.

Our Strategic Plan will further support the sustainable growth of KidsXpress and expand the overall reach and impact of our program. The strategies were developed, in part, from the findings of our recent international research trip to the US and UK, which enabled us to study the very best overseas childhood trauma reparation practices and, receive advice and insight from leading academics and researchers about our program structure and evaluation methodology. Based on these findings, KidsXpress has made it a priority to extend our existing services to facilitate greater & deeper engagement with parents/carers and schools, in order to improve the lasting impact of our early-intervention therapy program.

What was the catalyst for KidsXpress entering the Australian Ethical Community Grant?

With 1 in 5 children in Australia experiencing unhealthy levels of stress and trauma, we’re extremely motivated at KidsXpress to find avenues that will support the sustainable growth and expansion of our services throughout Australia. Ultimately, we aim to create generational change by supporting families, schools and communities in managing and minimising the impact of childhood trauma.

The Australian Ethical Community grant is an incredible opportunity for KidsXpress to secure new funding and the public voting component is a great way to increase awareness about the impact of childhood trauma and many other important causes, by getting people more involved and engaged with the non-profit sector.

What would winning the Australian Ethical Community Grant do for KidsXpress?

If KidsXpress are lucky enough to win the Australian Ethical Community Grant, we will receive just shy of $20,000!

With this funding, KidsXpress will be able to provide 20 weeks of therapy through two new group expressive therapy programs. As a result, 12 vulnerable children will be able to work with our specialised therapists, learning how to process past and present traumatic experiences, build resilience and to develop coping strategies for life which will prevent their current challenges from persisting and growing with them into adulthood.

So please, vote for KidsXpress and help us transform the lives of 12 vulnerable children!

We would love your support, imagine if our 350,000 strong social media community all voted for the incredible work of KidsXpress? Wait, don’t just imagine it, head over to their website and do it now!  

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