For many individuals who work in child welfare, moving children from a home, especially due to an emergency, can be emotional. I remember when I was working as a case manager the way that my heart would race before needing to move a child. I remember packing up clothes and toys, almost at random, and the way my heart would sink as a parent or caregiver would pull out garbage bags for me to put their belongings in. Carrying those to the trunk of my little car, already full of car seats, felt like sending the worst possible message to the world about exactly what was happening to these children and this family. While I always knew that moving children with garbage bags wasn’t ideal, at the time, there didn’t seem to be many other options.
Earlier this year, SaintA, as part of Quality Parenting Milwaukee, began looking at ways to improve how our children transition in out-of-home care, and in hindsight, it was unsurprising that the need for duffle bags and luggage was named as a priority by the work group. Everyone around the table shared the fear that we are sending children negative messages whenever they move, that their belongings, and by extension, they, were worthless. With that one conversation, a journey began!
SaintA hosted our first duffle bag drive this year, and the response was phenomenal. Individuals cleaned out closets and purchased new bags to donate. Some people donated money, and organizations hosted their own drives or donated products. Several community organizations stepped up in a big way to support this effort, including the Milwaukee Bucks, Toshiba and Kohls, which is hosting their own duffle bag drive this month.
A SaintA foster parent, Miranda Rochol, also inspired by the need, hosted a community- wide duffle bag drive to benefit SaintA and another foster care organization. Their hard work gathered more community attention and was featured on TMJ4’s Positively Milwaukee. More than 500 bags have been donated to support SaintA’s commitment to ensuring children move in a trauma-sensitive way. Because of the generosity of those donating, the impact of these duffle bag drives will extend beyond SaintA, as we have contacted other child welfare agencies in Milwaukee to see if they could benefit from the many bags we have been so lucky to receive.
The drive is already making an impact on the children we serve. Last week, shortly after another load of donations arrived, there was a child in the office who needed placement. His items were gathered together in garbage bags and were sitting on a cart. Because of the drive, he was able to go and pick out his own suitcase, along with a hygiene kit. That night, when he moved, he would move with his belongings in duffle bags and suitcases.
What a better (and more trauma-sensitive) message to send! With continued efforts in the future, we hope to see a more trauma-informed Milwaukee, where children never move with their belongings in garbage bags.
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