When children are first placed into emergency foster homes, they often don’t bring their personal belongings. But a new partnership could change that for Western Alaska.
Children in the region who are placed in an emergency foster home will now get a special tote bag, called a “comfort case,” filled with basic supplies.
That’s also the name of the nonprofit that’s partnering with Bethel Lions Club to hand them out in conjunction with the Office of Children's Services (OCS) and the Bethel Police Department.
"They are going to supply 100 percent of the children entering our OCS system in the western region with a "comfort kit,” with the basic essentials that a person might need on the first night," said Anny Cochrane, who is the vice district governor for Bethel Lions Club.
Cochrane has been an emergency foster parent for years. That means she takes in children who have just been removed from their homes.
"Children come into my home, their life has been really, really rocked. Many times they’ve seen abuses that they have a hard time articulating, and they’re coming into a stranger’s home where they’ve never been, and they’re just supposed to instantly feel instantly safe, like I’m going to protect them. And so this is a level of trust to be able to give to the kids, to say ‘I really care about you, and I care about you so much that I have some pajamas for you to wear tonight, and I have a book that’s all yours. And this is your blanket,’” Cochrane said.
Other items include toiletries and underwear that will fit each individual child. The tote bags are in bright colors. Some even have sparkles. Cochrane says that the bags are designed to ease the transition into a new place.
Cochrane tried to do something similar with the Girl Scouts organization a few years ago, but on a smaller scale. And then she got on Facebook one day…
"All of a sudden I see there’s this gentleman who created this not-for-profit that’s exactly like this, and taken it a step further," Cochrane said.
Rob Scheer is the founder of Comfort Cases. He was also in foster care. Scheer created the Maryland-based nonprofit to make sure that kids get their own toiletries, and underwear that actually fits them instead of foster parents using whatever they have available. Cochrane reached out and asked him to partner with her to bring these tote bags of supplies to Western Alaska. It took three years, but now it's happening.
Cochrane says that this is part of her dream, and that dream is a kind of vision of what can potentially be the outcome of a foster care situation.
"A healthy family is the most important thing to me. And I may be the pause that needs to be taken in order for the parents to get back on track, but my ultimate goal is that all my children can return home to their families, and that their families can be a safe and healthy environment for them," Cochrane said.
Cochrane says that she’ll have an idea of the "Comfort Case" collaboration’s success in six months. She also hopes to bring this program into more parts of Alaska. However, those plans to expand are still steps to be taken in the future.