Changing the Culture of Foster Care through Duffels4Kids

What if something as simple as his or her own duffel bag could make a foster child feel loved and secure when going to an unfamiliar place?

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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

My husband and I were placed with our first foster child in January 2008 and we were handed a black trash bag that included the child's clothing. As parents, we were confused as to why a child's belongings were stuffed in a trash bag. It certainly created a juxtaposition of being handed something so precious -- the child -- with something that is used to discard things that are no longer useful in life -- the trash bag. This experience was disheartening but it sparked the seed for Duffels4Kids, which became a viable concept in 2012 after much research and planning.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • Black or African American (for example: African American, Jamaican, Haitian, Nigerian, Ethiopian, Somalian)

Website

http://www.duffels4kids.org

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Florida

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]

Miami

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Florida

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

All counties of Florida

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

There are thousands of children in foster care across the country and many of them are using trash bags for luggage. The nature of the child welfare system forces many foster children to pack their belongings in trash bags when it is time for them to move to a new placement. This degrading practice teaches children that they are not worthy and are the same as trash. In a direct response to this shameful practice, Duffels4Kids offers a solution by gifting all foster children with a free duffel to call their own. The goal is to provide a small sense of dignity to these children and to show them that they deserve to move through the world like their peers.

Duffels4Kids provides a solution to the degrading practice of foster children having to carry their belongings in a trash bag by gifting every foster child with a free and new duffel bag to call their own.

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • Communities of color
  • Children who are differently abled
  • LGBTQ or non-binary individuals

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Child and Family Services
  • Education

Year Founded

2012

Project Stage

  • Established (the solution has passed the previous stages, and has demonstrated success)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

Just recently, a foster mom requested a duffel for her foster son but also for her foster son's biological mom who was living in a homeless shelter with her belongings in trash bags. To be able to supply both the foster child and the biological mom with duffels large enough for their belongings was an honor. Additionally, Duffels4Kids recently gifted 33 foster children with duffel bags to attend a weeklong college tour designed to expose them to higher ed institutions in the state of Florida. Another 80 duffels, along with a spiral-bound copy of the Foster Care Transition Toolkit, were gifted to foster youth graduating from Miami-Dade County to help them transition their belongings to the college or trade school of their choice.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Duffels4Kids gifted approximately 500 duffels to children in foster care in 2015 and is on track to gift that number and more for 2016. Duffels4Kids keeps a database that lists every child that has received a duffel from the program. This tracking allows us to see where the program may be underserving its children and allows us to make a concerting effort to host distributions in the area or nearby.

Organization Type

  • nonprofit/NGO/citizen sector

Annual Budget

  • $10k - $50k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Duffels4Kids hosts an annual walk to secure funds for purchasing duffels. In addition, Duffels4Kids continuously solicits donations and applies for various grants and sponsorships to help sustain itself financially.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

At this time, Duffels4Kids is the only statewide program gifting duffels to children in the state of Florida. In the next five years, Duffels4Kids aims to expand to other states that are in need of a similar program.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

While Duffels4Kids is able to gift duffels to foster children once they are placed in a foster home, our ultimate goal would be able to provide foster care agencies with duffels for their offices. This, along with training for workers on the sensitivity of this issue for children, would provide a shift in the trend of caseworkers stuffing kids' belongings in trash bags in order to move them to another placement. This would truly help change the culture of foster care.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Word of mouth

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public)

Melanie Griffin

4 comments

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Photo of Janine
Team

I really love what you are doing! Thank you for recognizing how important dignity is for these young people!  It would be amazing to even have the chance to have the bags monogrammed with their name! Keep making a difference!

Photo of Duffels4Kids
Team

Thank you for the kind words, Janine! And for the suggestion. We had looked into this possibility when first starting Duffels4Kids but decided it was too cost prohibitive for the number of duffels we want to distribute. Also, a lot of our distributions are handled pretty quickly (as the kids are sometimes in temporary placements for a few days and then move on) so there was the time factor to consider as well.  

Photo of Janine
Team

That makes sense for sure. It is amazing that you can fill the requests so quickly. I know it makes a difference!

Photo of Duffels4Kids
Team

Yes, Janine Jones we order them in bulk so regional representatives can have some on hand for these emergency placements. Sometimes it doesn't work out. I had a foster mom request four duffels recently because her foster kids were being placed with their grandmother. She thought they were leaving on a Friday but they left two days earlier so we weren't able to get the duffels to them in time. Just received an email that the kids were returned to her and are now waiting on a new placement with their father so they will get the duffels after all. Foster care is definitely a very fluid system for all involved.