DHS Collecting Items for Foster Kids
Each year, thousands of children across Arkansas are forced into foster care, often rescued from dangerous situations. When the call is made to the the Arkansas Department of Human Services, Division of Children and Family Services, caseworkers often find the children don't even have the basics, such as clean underwear or diapers or a bag for their clothes. In many cases they've not eaten.
In response to the need, the DHS is holding a month-long donation drive, working in conjunction with the Clinton School of Public Service. During the drive donations of "basic needs" items will be accepted statewide, including at the office in Piggott.
"We are seeking donations of new items for use in Clay County," noted Tracy Holloway, Clay County DCFS supervisor. "Any and all donations will help us make that first night for a child in foster care a little easier."
Holloway noted there are five licensed foster homes in Clay County, and currently 26 children in foster care. Statewide in 2015, there were 7,877 children and youth in foster care in Arkansas, and over 1,450 of those children entered care after regular business hours. "At any given time there are over 4,800 children and youth in foster care, and there are only about 1,400 foster family homes to care for those children," Holloway added. "You can help make a difference for a child with your donation."
"In some instances children can't bring their own clothing and toys because they had been contaminated by drugs or very unhygienic living conditions," Willie Baker, a Family Service Worker in Pulaski County, said during the donation drive kick-off event at the Clinton School of Public Service on Monday.
"Last year, I had to remove three children from a home because their parents' meth lab had exploded in the family's kitchen. There were chemicals everywhere," Baker explained. "Things were so bad they had to leave their clothes, and the 2-year-old could not bring the blanket she slept with. Her older sister had to leave her Teddy bear behind."
Baker replaced the blanket, bear and clothes, but that meant taking the children to the store late at night after they'd already experienced a traumatic event.
"They were crying, and my heart broke for them," he said. "With the donations we're collecting, we'll be able to have things in our offices for the children. That will make that first night in care just a little bit easier."
Foster parent Christine Walker said donations also help foster parents.
"When a child comes into your home in the middle of the night, you may have to spend hours the next day enrolling him in school and shopping for clothes," Walker said. "Not only do these donations save us time, they allow us to use our money to take the children out to eat or to do something fun, like go to a water park."
Walker, who has fostered more than 70 children, knows first-hand that people donating basic items make a difference. She opened a boutique in White County where foster families in her community can "shop" at no cost.
"We often hear people say they want to do something for foster children, but that they are not ready or able to be foster parents," she said. "That's OK. Communities can support foster families and the children they serve simply by donating items at a DHS county office."
The Delta Dental Foundation announced at the kick-off event Monday that it would donate 4,000 toothbrushes during the donation drive. Mattress Firm also announced that it will be accepting donations at six locations in central Arkansas.
Understandably, the need is great as there are currently more 4,900 children in foster care in Arkansas, and the number has been rising steadily over the past few years.
"Children come into foster care at all hours of the day and night," said DCFS Interim Director Mischa Martin. "As you can imagine, you never quite know what a particular child may need. Often times our caseworkers are at a store in the middle of the night purchasing diapers, clothing or food. Having needed items ready and available will save time and make things less stressful for everyone involved."
Donations may be dropped off at the DHS office, 187 North Second Avenue, in Piggott, or at any of the other 84 offices statewide. "This is a great project for church groups, Sunday School classes, clubs and organizations," noted Clay County DHS director Annette Dutka. "And, we've got a donation container in the lobby of the Piggott office for those wanting to drop off items.
"We're asking for the items that are most often needed immediately by these children, and we can only accept new items," Holloway explained.
The items requested include--backpacks, duffle bags, suitcases and other luggage, diapers and wipes, toothbrushes and toothpaste, children's underwear in sizes 2T and up, children's socks, pajamas, towels, pacifiers, bottles and sippy cups, deodorant, lotions, soap, baby shampoo and lice shampoo.
"We're also accepting donations of kid-friendly, pre-packaged, non-perishable snacks," Holloway added. "Things like fruit snacks, individual sized crackers, granola bars, individual packages of goldfish, applesauce pouches and fruit roll-ups are ideal."
The donation drive continues throughout the month of May, and those wanting more information may contact Holloway at the Clay County DHS office in Piggott by calling 870 598-2282, Ext. 111. Additional information on foster care, and how volunteers can become foster parents, is also available online at www.fosterarkansas.org or through the local DHS office.