Something bad happened with your family – and now a judge has placed you into foster care.
This probably hasn’t been the first time you’ve had to move. More than likely, it’s the 3rd or 4th time in the last year you’ve changed your living situation.
You are told that today is the day – and you gather all of your belongings. Your toothbrush, a teddy bear, maybe a book and some clothes.
But you don’t have anything to put these things in – you never had one and you certainly can’t afford one. After all – you are a kid.
So, the social worker hands you a trash bag and tells you to collect your belongings.
Item by item, you place everything you own into a flimsy store-brand trash bag. Your items are heavy enough that the black bag turns a shade of grey from the stretching. You hope it will hold up until you get to your destination. Something pointed, maybe your toothbrush pokes a hole in your bag.
You control nothing in your life.
“It honestly made me feel worthless,” said Dylan Watson, a former foster child who aged out of the system about carrying everything he owned in a trash bag from one place to another over and over again. “So, I just have to say it really sucks whenever you have to tote your belongings in trash bags and move from house to house.”
Dylan has begun to pursue a career in law enforcement, but at the age of 21, his mind still has a strong connection to his recent past.
“I’m going into law enforcement to help kids in foster care,” he says, “I want to show the world that no matter where you come from, or what you do, or the background you come from, especially in foster care – nothing is too hard to achieve.”
While Dylan has a sense of forward direction and momentum – many children in the foster system and the adults who age out don’t have the tools to create their future due to their situation.
Chipping away at the issue is not easy. But people like Ginger Davis at Northwest Florida Guardian Ad Litem (NWFGAL) do it anyway.
Ginger is in charge of a program that hopes to restore dignity to children like Dylan by giving them a kit that includes a rolling duffel bag, hygiene products, blankets, books and stuffed animals. The program, called Cases for Kids, is funded exclusively through donations from private individuals. According to the website, the program is in its pilot phase in Walton County.
“Just this week, we had a young man show up in the Walton County office who was in between foster homes and had to hang out at the Guardian Ad Litem office while the transition was being completed. He sat there with all of his items in large black trash bags,” Davis remembers.
The organization still has a lot to do in order to get 100 children per month something to put their things in as they move from home to home between DeFuniak Springs and Pensacola.
At the rate children enter the program – NWFGAL will need almost $13,000 per month to outfit children of various ages to face an uncertain future in the foster care system.
Every year, about 1,500 children process through the Northwest Guardian Ad Litem Program (NWFGAL), which deals exclusively with children in a foster home situation due to something taking place in their family. The NWFGAL covers Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa and Walton Counties and can only help about 75% of the total number of children due to a volunteer shortage. Many of those children won’t get bags – they cost about $125 per child. “We need about 100 per month to keep up with demand [from children entering the system every month,] Davis said.