Friday, January 28, 2011

Improving the Foster Care System - Part XI

In this week's installment on ways we can improve the foster care system, I'm going to start with one simple sentence:

Ban garbage bags.

To the unfamiliar, it sounds like a silly thing to suggest.

Why would anyone want to ban trash bags? They are useful for getting rid of garbage, and they keep the inside of the cans clean.

And that is exactly why they should be banned...for moving foster children.

Read LT's post, Are YOU guilty of treating foster kids like trash? In it, she wrote:
Have you ever had a trash bag with your treasures rip apart in the middle of the sidewalk as you are being hurried into a worker’s car, leaving a foster home? ...Have you? Do you see how tough this is? On one hand you are being rushed away, on another hand, your "treasures" are on the ground and you want to pick them up… On one hand, the foster parents already said "goodbye," and on the other hand they start to help pick up the "treasures" on the ground...

Now when we were foster parents, we didn't have a lot of kids coming and going. We had three girls come, one girl ran away (abandoning her stuff), one was moved, and the last stayed. When the one child was moved, we were absolutely adamant that she not leave with her stuff in trash bags. We told the worker that we would pack the girl's things in clean (new) moving boxes, as she didn't have luggage and had too much to fit in a single suitcase. To our surprise, the worker ordered us to put her things in garbage bags, because boxes would take up too much space and wouldn't fit in her car.

We went out and bought mesh laundry bags instead. They were inexpensive, yet they had a little more class than a garbage bag. They also had a drawstring close and a nice strap so the bag could be carried over your shoulder.

I was gonna be damned if the kid was going to leave with her stuff in garbage bags, even if it was the way it came.

In fact, all the foster children who came to us brought at least some of their possessions in black trash bags. The first two girls carried everything in trash bags. The last came with a suitcase, a couple of cardboard boxes, and a trash bag or two.

Foster children are not trash. The message we send when we bag their property in trash bags is that their stuff is garbage, which therefore translates into meaning that the children are not important enough to warrant something better.

It probably seems silly, given the systemic and pervasive problems in the foster care system, but it's a small change that might make a huge difference.


  1. Oh, I agree!!! So very much.
    I have had a total of 5 foster placements. The first came with garbage bags full of "treasures" ...ripped and stained clothes, fast food toys, a couple of well loved stuffed animals, and that's about it.
    The next two showed up at my doorstep with nothing but the clothes on their backs and a coloring book the caseworker gave them. At 4 and 6 years old- they weren't even wearing shoes. The caseworker was supposed to go back and get their stuff- but the bio dad wouldn't let her in, so they had nothing.
    The next 2 also came packed in garbage bags.
    The 4 who left my home did with their things packaged in boxes and laundry baskets. I owed them that much.

  2. Our first foster daughter came with two huge black garbage bags packed with almost nothing that even fit her! When she left 3 1/2 years later she had a suitcase, a duffel bag, and several laundry baskets full of things. Our next two little boys came wearing a pair of jeans, a flannel shirt, and tennis shoes with no laces. No underwear or socks or jackets. They stayed! When their siblings came from a different foster home, they had boxes for their things, and they also stayed! We had two other foster kids after adopting the group of four, and they came with garbage bags, and left with laundry baskets. To this day I cringe when I see clothes and belongings transported in black garbage bags. It is not right.

  3. Perhaps they should address the issue of bouncing the children from home to home.


  4. We have had 42 foster kids (4 are staying forever) except for the one kid we picked up from another foster home and the two who came with only the dirty diapers they were wearing all of them came with stuff in garbage bags. When they left they went with boxes, duffel bags, suitcases, whatever we could scrounge up at the time, but no garbage bags. Some of the older kids appreciated that and told us so.

  5. Yes, yes, and yes. It may be a small change, but it makes sense to me that it would have a huge impact. A duffel or laundry bag is really a small expense for a lot more dignity for the child.

  6. If you want to make a difference about the garbage bag usage, please check out


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