Helping one child at a time
Here is the complicated, yet simple truth: These children were rescued by a call to 1-855-4LA-KIDS (1-855-452-5437), which is the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) help line. Fortunately, concerned family members reported their parents, who were not capable of caring for these two children. These babies, at the age of one and two, had already seen the worst of what life could offer in terms of abuse, neglect, and the destructive cycle of addiction.
When they arrived at my certified foster-to-adopt house, there wasn’t time to prepare. It was an emergency. It all happened so fast.
They were delivered to me by a well-meaning, yet exhausted, overworked, underpaid DCFS worker who was a mother herself. This worker had a huge heart for children but there was not enough time in the day or resources on hand to even scratch the surface of their basic needs. Currently, the DCFS is so under-staffed that the state of Louisiana would have to hire 1,200 additional workers statewide to carry the proper caseload in both child welfare and family support.
Children removed from such brokenness with addiction, neglect, and abuse don’t bring along any items to start over with in their new home. Thankfully, children from these hard places are entering a better phase of life, but they are temporarily left in limbo in the system as “gap children” or even considered to be “state property.” These children are so far below the status quo of “at risk” children, that they are perceived as an assigned “set of numbers” in a system. These precious humans are instantly dehumanized numbers to be managed around their risks and their liabilities. This system is so huge and ultimately flawed that most people ( including myself) can’t even start to comprehend real world solutions for this mess.
After getting mad about the situation, I knew that doing nothing was not an option, so an idea was born. Of course people wanted to help, but they needed to know what to do exactly. We started to ask what can actually help during that awful first night in foster care, and how can ordinary people support these children. Thus began our small but mighty organization in 2013 and two years later, we became an official 501(c)3 named Geaux 4 Kids, Inc.
Geaux 4 Kids recognized this serious need, and immediately began working on how to help meet it. With our flagship project, GeauxBags, we provide a new pack of underwear, new pajamas, new socks, diapers if needed, and right-size toiletries with age-appropriate comfort items (like blankets, stuffed animals, colors, books, and music). All are clean, practical items organized by size, from infant to teens, and neatly packaged in new, reusable GeauxBags (green for girls and blue for boys), then neatly labeled for DCFS workers and first responders.
To date, we have operated entirely from donations, most of which have been in the form of in-kind donations. Storage and supplies are housed in the Common Ground Community Center, free of charge. Once Geaux Bags are completed, they are given directly to our local Department of Children and Family Services offices to deliver to children entering foster care on their first night.
Since our humble beginnings, we have successfully provided over 4,000 GeauxBags in Shreveport and Bossier as well as outlying parishes. Over 2,000 children enter foster care in our Northwest Louisiana (Region 7) every year, and we hope to serve all of them in the future with their very own GeauxBag.
In addition to providing immediate support, we also hope to bring awareness to how children are treated entering foster care and the great need for more services. We held our 3rd annual “May the 4th” breakfast this year with participation from foster children, foster parents, Mayor Ollie Tyler, and the head of the Department of Children and Families for the State of Louisiana, Marketa Garner Walters. The purpose of this breakfast is to bring awareness to foster care and the need for social change regarding this issue.
These children are the most at-risk; they are instantly orphaned without any legal guardians except “state services.” They sit, alone, in the excruiciatingly long gap of time between their horrific past, and an unknown future. The very headlines of tragic news stories, they have seen the worst of what the world has to offer. Can’t we show them love, kindness and dignity?
The need has never been greater. Statewide in Louisiana, 8,057 children were in foster care in 2017. Each one deserves dignity and hope for their future in that moment when they are thrust into foster care through no fault of their own. Geaux 4 Kids can help in a direct and impactful way. We are now securing funds, volunteers, and resources to have one HUGE Pack and Sack event every year. This year’s event will be on November 4, Orphan Sunday. Afterwards, GeauxBags will be distributed to the local DCFS so they have them on hand the moment they receive a call to help a child in trauma.
We believe that this grassroots effort has been very successful in getting GeauxBags to local children in need when entering foster care. However, we would like to move to a more structured, long-term operation as we complete our mission of becoming a statewide organization in 2018. To serve all foster children in Louisiana, we need 15,000 bags ready and available to cover their basic and immediate needs. With community-wide donations, we will have the ability to organize and purchase in bulk to extend our reach to more children than ever before.
The most surprising and heart-warming discovery on this journey is that more people are being led to adopt from foster care–all thanks to the outreach and education efforts by Geaux 4 Kids Inc. and project GeauxBags. No one chooses to leave their family, or to be orphaned, or become a ward of the state. We as a society must rescue children in love and dignity.