It’s always a great day when Liz Sparks comes to visit with a cute critter in her care.

A case manager with Innovative Community Action Networks (ICAN), Liz incorporates animal therapy to support students who are disconnected from or at risk of disengaging with education – invariably against a backdrop of trauma.

Accompanying Liz today is eight-month-old Banjo, an albino western grey kangaroo.

Banjo had his own tough start to life; his mother fell ill, leaving him dehydrated and malnourished.

“Mum was treated but her milk is gone, so he needs to be cared for now,’’ says Liz.

For as long as she can remember, her family has been nurturing injured, abandoned and sick animals.

Liz’s stepfather was a national park ranger at Cleland Wildlife Park, and the household became a haven for orphans of all shapes and sizes.

“We’ve had baby goats, pigs, deer, turtles, frogs, insects, kookaburras, tawny frogmouths – you name it! The little piglets are cute …

“ I’ve got a red-tailed black-cockatoo I take around too.’’

Liz says the animals have an incredible impact on the young people she connects with: “It’s about nurturing; for something to trust them and unconditionally love them is huge.’’

The animals help to build trust in the young people, and teach them about body language, respect, resilience and how to regulate their emotions and behaviours.

They’ve even helped improve attendance rates at the schools she visits, Liz says.

“Often they will change their behaviour in order to be able to interact with the animals, which is amazing to watch.

“One young girl was hypervigilant and wouldn’t sit down. She had a huge trauma background and wore her backpack everywhere. But now she’ll sit quietly and hold the animals.

“With non-English speaking young people, they help with aspects of talking and sharing.

“In a lot of Third World countries, they don’t have pets, so they think of animals very differently, This teaches them about respect for animals, and the contact can also break down some of the language barriers.’’

ICAN aims to support young people to more successfully connect with community, and engage them in flexible learning that fits their needs.

Learn more about the program HERE.