TOPEKA - Due to a variety of circumstances, about 800 Kansas children are removed from their homes and put into “out-of-home placement” every year. Regardless of the reason, such a traumatic event is almost certain to produce in these youth a sense of uncertainty and instability.
A movement to give these children tangible comfort is spreading across the state, spearheaded by Kansans with not just care in their hearts, but skill in their hands.
The Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF) and its two contracted partners, KVC Kansas and Saint Francis, are rallying makers of quilts, afghans and blankets to produce and donate products to Project Warm Embrace to communicate love and care to these children when they enter foster care.
“When children come into foster care, they are often placed in an unfamiliar environment, so they are going to naturally feel a lack of security,” said DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore. “Project Warm Embrace is a very special way that we can communicate to these children that they aren’t forgotten, but rather that people care very much about them.”
Project Warm Embrace has operated in DCF’s West Region, which covers a large portion of the state, roughly from Manhattan and Wichita to the Colorado border, for more than a decade. At its peak, the West Region gave several hundred blankets, most of them hand-made, to children in foster care. The West Region is the territory covered by Saint Francis, which manages foster care providers and serves the children in those homes.
Now DCF is sowing seeds to see the project expand statewide. Project Warm Embrace is now up and running in DCF’s Kansas City Region. Crafters from one rural county were especially excited to help children in the area.
“We started in Atchison County because we had a connection to some quilting groups there,” said LaRochelle Young, DCF Assistant Regional Director in charge of community relations in the Kansas City Region. “It will take a lot of effort to grow to the point we can provide for every child every year. But the people who donated this year really sensed that they are communicating something special to the children.”
Two quilting groups in rural Atchison County, which is within the Kansas City Region, embraced the need and set to work producing the quilts. Quilts require five to eight hours of work and can cost anywhere from $15 to $100 to make. Quilters in Atchison County, which is served by child welfare provider KVC Kansas, produced more than 90 quilts in 2015.
“Most of us are retired and have time, and want to do community projects,” said LaVerne Fowler of Cummings. “We all love sewing, but we really like doing something that we think will help someone. Most children love a blanket that is their own, and any child would love to know that someone thought of them specifically when they made it.”
Randall Lind, DCF Assistant Regional Director over community relations in the West Region, has for several years helped coordinate Project Warm Embrace where it began, in the West. He provided assistance to get the Kansas City Region involved. Lind said Saint Francis would like to expand the program in the West, hoping to provide a duffle bag, a book and a blanket to every child that enters out-of-home placement as part of a new initiative known as Pages.
“In order to do that, we’re going to need more community involvement than ever,” Lind said. “We think this is a very worthy cause, and those who have been involved in the past have felt it was very rewarding to try to make these children feel that they are cared for.”
To donate a quilt in the Kansas City Region, call 913-680-2219. To donate in the West Region, call 620-663-5731.
(A DCF worker holds a Project Warm Embrace Quilt)