TOPEKA – Being removed from one’s home is a traumatic experience for any child coming into foster care. In the hopes of easing anxiety for these young victims of abuse and neglect, a Topeka organization has worked for the last four months to create a space where children can feel safe and happy. Today, during a news conference and open house, the group, along with Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF) staff, unveiled the room.
When the court orders or law enforcement deems appropriate, and a child is taken into protective custody, the child may spend up to four hours at a DCF service center while the agency’s foster care contractors work quickly to identify a relative or family foster home placement. That time of uncertainty can be especially difficult.
Members of the Leadership Greater Topeka (LGT) Class of 2016, associated with the Topeka Chamber of Commerce, recognized the importance of providing comfort to children during this traumatic time and decided to do something to meet that need.
Challenged to pick a project that would make a difference in the lives of Topekans, one group of participants in the leadership class committed to renovating a room at the Topeka DCF service center, so that children coming into foster care have a pleasant and inviting space to wait. Arnold Downing Sr. is part of that team. He has also been a foster parent for nearly 20 years.
“I’ve had experience picking up kids who are waiting to be placed in foster care,” said Downing, Vice President of Leasing and Resident Services for the Topeka Housing Authority. “I know what a traumatic experience that is for those kids. As a group, it took us only about 15 minutes to decide that was the best place for us to make an impact.”
The LGT Class of 2016, spent many hours gathering donations totaling more than $8,000. The members of the group volunteered nights and weekends to raise the funds and to provide the labor needed to transform two rooms within the DCF building at 500 SW Van Buren.
Group members painted walls to create an environment that lets children know they matter. The group also installed new cabinets, flat screen televisions, video games, microwaves, a refrigerator, repainted furniture and hung new pictures on the walls. They completed their work on the room on May 6, and their labor is already paying dividends.
“It’s already making a difference with the children who have been in the new rooms,” said DCF Assessment and Prevention Administrator Suzi Martinez. “The children may be confused, distraught, angry, sometimes, sick. Our staff works with those children to comfort them and help them through that experience. Having a warm, safe place for them has helped them during that time.”
Martinez said the LGT class asked them for a wish list that would improve the rooms. She said DCF was pleasantly surprised when the leadership group went above and beyond her expectations.
“It wasn’t just for the children that we took on this project,” said Downing. “We had in mind the DCF staff who do such a tough job and have such a challenge with helping these kids. We know that they do a very thankless job, and we wanted to honor them and show them that we appreciate what they do.”
The group named its project “Fostering the Love.” Because children taken into protective custody often leave home without any of their personal items, the group also gathered 300 donated bags and filled them with toiletry and hygiene products so that the children can have some things of their own during the transition.
Some of the contributing businesses included Walmart, AT&T, UMB Bank and Best Buy.
Rooms for children in protective custody are in most of the DCF service centers across the state. To learn more about how you can help children in foster care, contact Todd Fertig of the DCF Administrative Office in Topeka at firstname.lastname@example.org
. The first photo below includes members of the LGT group who contributed to the project.
Members of the Leadership Greater Topeka (LGT) Class of 2016 gave the rooms for children in protective custody at the Topeka Service Center a new look.