SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — A knock comes on the door. Children cower in a corner.
A social worker and a police officer — perhaps a few — look straight at them. In a soft, but clear voice, the social worker tells the children a safe place is awaiting them, they leave their homes with just a few clothes, toys and other belonging.
A waiting car soon takes them away. They are physically safe, but suddenly they are in a home with strangers. It is all foreign to them, unfamiliar and scary.
And this kind of scenario is a common story every day across America.
Any time a child is pulled from his or her home can be traumatic. A backpack with a warm cuddly stuffed animal along with some other familiar things might ease that sudden and swift change a bit.
Or, so at least the local Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution is hoping will happen, according to Ann Hazelwood, leader of the local Narragansett-Cooke-Gaspee chapter. Her group is filling several backpacks for just those kinds of emergencies in South Kingstown.
“We are trying to build a better America, and how we look into these unseemly situations to bring comfort and safety in a time of turmoil,” she said about the group’s efforts to collect items such as tooth brushes, combs, stuffed animals and other things a child rushed out of their home might need.
It is a scene that plays out across America every day and this organization, says Hazelwood, sees opportunity locally to help.
Very often, children entering foster care have to leave a home in an emergency situation, often with nothing more than what they are wearing and some hurriedly collected clothes.
“Anything we can use to make a bad experience more tolerable for these young kids is good,” said South Kingstown Police Chief Joel Ewing-Chow. He said that removals from unsafe homes in town are infrequent, but have occurred.
He said he is looking forward to working with the group to incorporate the backpacks into the department’s overall response to these kinds of situations.
A National Issue
Law enforcement responds to calls every day where children have to be separated from parents or guardians. It could be domestic violence or drug calls, emergency removals, or even DWI crashes.
While officers investigate, children at the scene are isolated and scared.
So a young philanthropist, a local police department, and a state organization have teamed up to offer comfort to those children.
“The officers will be of course the first person there and we try to remove the kids as soon as possible so we can separate everybody,” said Boerne Police Officer Rebecca Foley.
“The children are sitting in the back of a police car, with nothing to do, lights are on, they see their parents taken away, it’s a traumatic experience,” said Tim Allen, the president of the Texas Council of Child Welfare Boards, which keeps track of children in state care and finds ways to fill gaps.
The Local Angle
Joslin Leasca of Wakefield is a nurse with a specialization of treating people in traumatic situations.
“When they come out of the house, the only thing they come out with is a trash bag of their things in it,” she said. She said that she proposed to this DAR chapter that it collect blankets, stuffed animals, personal toiletries and other familiar items to kids to brunt the loss of an emergency “evacuation” from the house.
The backpack colors include brown, blue, purple, green and green to appeal to young kids’ individual tastes and feelings toward colors that make them sense something comfortable.
Perhaps one key item inside is a “lovey,” whether a soft plush stuffed animal or cozy, warm and smooth blanket.
Loveys are a way to ease separation anxiety and can help children become more independent and feel safe while experiencing new things. Many children will grow out of their attachment to their lovey but some will hold onto their object much longer.
Experts say these are important during traumatic events for children.
Leasca said that she wants this program to help any young children removed from their home to feel less lonely and attached to something personal to aid in a transition.
“We are trying to create something they can call their own,” she said.