By Greg Ritchie
EAST TEXAS – When a child is removed from a home by CPS (child protective services), several things happen. First, the cild is removed from danger – immediate and physical, or longterm and psychological – or both. The child is afraid, for better or worse, these are their parents. The must grab a few things and they are removed from their home, which although may be broken, may be the only home they have ever known.
If there is a drug lab present, everything in the home could be contaminated and other than a change of clothes and maybe one favorite toy, the child must leave everything behind. It’s also easy to understand why many of these children develop a fear of police officers. After all, to their young minds, until these people with the badges and the guns came, everything was fine. One day they see the flashing lights, and these strange people take mom or dad away and take them to a new life of foster care.
Local Pastor Tim Allen is in his third term as President of Texas Council of Chid Welfare Boards and understood this dynamic well. How to somehow make this traumatizing but necessary removal of a child from a home a little easier to cope with? And maybe make police officers not seem so scary at the same time?
“About six years ago, I met a young man named Hunter Beaton who was in high school, working on his eagle scout, and had some siblings that were foster children. He noticed when they came into the house, they came in with plastic trash bags,” Allen said. “So he made that his project and formed a little relationship with a local bag maker to try and get some bags for his county and for foster care.”
Allen took the young man and the project under his wing and it has flourished into a successful non-profit called “Day 1 Bags,” which now distributes these bags in almost all 50 states, sending out around 40,000 bags last year in the state of Texas alone.
Allen noticed not only the need for bags, but the need to foster a better relationship between these children and the law enforcement officers there to protect them. It was during the COVID pandemic as he was sitting on a porch in Grapeland with a young girl in foster care that Allen saw the issue firsthand.
“All of a sudden, a police car comes by and she just starts shaking. And I said, ‘What’s wrong? Are you okay?’ And she just looks at the police car,” Allen remembered. “Then it hit me – anything she knew about police officers was negative. She was taken from her mom, they were pulled over on the side of the road and she sat for an hour and a half in the back of a police car. So, I started thinking, ‘There’s got to be something we can do.’”
Allen explained to Beaton the idea of the “ASAP” bag, or “A Serenity Activity Pack” which law enforcement could carry with them as a way of bridging that gap and making a little connection with a frightened child seeing police for the first time and maybe being removed from a dangerous situation.
“I thought about the kids when they’re removed from these situations, how oftentimes the children are just sitting there, with nothing to do,” Allen said. “It was kind of an evolution, but in those bags we put things like little toys, little writing implements, a little snack, a little drink, a little stuffed animal. We got on board and I got everybody in Houston County on board.”
And not just Houston County, but neighboring counties began to get word of the project and wanted the “ASAP” bags in their vehicles as well. The project now provides 32,000 such bags across the state, giving officers a little piece of kindness and humanity to give to a child who more than likely, is terrified and not quite sure what is happening.
With the bad press law enforcement receives in the media and in popular culture, most law enforcement agencies recognize the need to explain their roles and “humanize” the force and put a face on those officers, usually neighbors or longtime residents in the communities they serve. It is in this spirit that many communities participate in events like “National Night Out,” where first responders and average people come out and share a hot dog and get to know each other. This year’s National Night Out in Crockett is set to be held Tuesday, Oct. 3 across from city hall.
There are a lot of resources for these children, who both deserve and need them. Allen explained these days, many of the kids are removed from houses dealing in narcotics, where because of the chemicals used, most items have to be destroyed. The child might be able to take a few clothes or a favorite toy, but that’s all. Imagine being eight years old and having to choose which of your favorite toys you can take and leaving the rest behind?
The ASAP bag is a way to get the child calmed down in the first minutes after a removal and give them something of their own they can hold on to while the system gets them better situated.
Allen, along with Tami Bruner and the rest of the group are working on other projects as well. After the Uvalde shootings Allen was watching the news coverage and trying to think how in the world could the child welfare boards help with something like that?
“I do care, what can I do? I was thinking how do I move from just sympathy, to empathy, to compassion – how do I do that?” Allen said.
The solution was a new bag going into schools, an emergency bag for kids, just in case, with a few things they might need in the aftermath of something going wrong in a school.
To find out how you can help or donate items for these bags, contact the Houston County Child Welfare Board at [email protected].
All donations are happily accepted, except crayons, Allen said,”…I learned the hard way very early on…these guys are in their cars all day and in Texas – they melt pretty quick.”
Greg Ritchie can be reached at [email protected]