Duffle Bag vs Garbage Bag

For the 8,000 children in Tennessee who are in the foster care system, typically when they leave their homes and go into foster care, that is a traumatic and emotional experience. These children are given a black garbage bag in which to place their personal belongings, their stuffed animals, their toiletries, their clothes, all go into a black garbage bag, obviously a devaluing and somewhat dehumanizing experience.
I wish I could tell you that that’s unique to Tennessee, but it’s not; it goes on across this nation. A few years ago, a group of people, the Tennessee Action Council, began a ministry called Helping Hands. This ministry provides a beautiful new compartmentalized duffel bag, and it’s large enough to hold all of the child’s belongings, their clothes, their personal effects. They’re given that bag, and they can place their items in that bag; it can be safe and secure, their name goes on that bag, and they use that bag from that point forward for their items. The main thing we want to do is try and make the kid feel normal and stable when kids first come into custody but especially once they’ve been in custody for a little bit and, for any number of reasons, they have to change placements. In between those movement changes, sometimes foster parents are able to get them bags, but often times they’re not able to, even though they’ve gained more things, they’re still traveling around in trash bags. Having a bag to at least bring over to them makes it seem like it’s not trash, like it’s actual stuff and items that belong to them. I’ve had children come from homes where the home is no longer standing anymore, so they were left with nothing. So coming into custody, it made a huge impact on them, the fact that they had clothes to be able to go to school in. A lot of our kids are younger that are in the system, so just making it easier for them to know, okay, that’s my bag, those are my things, especially with sibling groups too, just having a bag they can close up so that they can keep their personal items to themselves makes a difference. Well, my first case that I gave bags to, they were very excited just to have something of their own. I think a lot of times people forget that in sibling groups sometimes the oldest, or the middle, or sometimes even the youngest can get overlooked, so for all children in my sibling group to get their own bag, they were really excited to have something of their own. These kids don’t really experience what you and I might consider normal; it’s normal to them, so coming into custody sometimes it’s the first time that a child has ever had a bag of their own, clothes of their own, anything that is theirs, so it’s giving them that what we would consider normal for the first time in their life. Thank you so much, you really are impacting a lot of children in Tennessee and a lot of people at our department. To get these children something that they can keep their personal items in is keeping them connected, it is keeping them grounded and making them transition better to their next opportunity and their next placement. You really never know what you can do to make a difference; start out with small steps, it can lead to something larger, and in our case, it has. I’ve always really loved children, but I actually lost one, and it was born prematurely, lived a few hours, passed on, and that was the hardest thing I ever went through. It gave me an appreciation for life, for children, for helping them develop, and I always wished there was something, something that I could do that would be of lasting value. This has turned out to be exactly that; we’re letting God lead us in this, and it’s God’s plan we’ll follow.

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