Queensland kids’ letters to children in foster care
AS a social worker, Melissa Kennedy knows exactly what a child goes through when they're taken into foster care.
"From my experience working in child protection, what we would often see is children would be removed from their homes and they just don't have the time (to pack anything)," she said.
"I guess the parents aren't willing to pack up their things, so they will literally leave the house in what they are wearing."
"Especially if it happens at night time, and the carers don't have access to the shops, the kids will just turn up in what they're wearing. They won't have pyjamas or a toothbrush."
It inspired Ms Kennedy and her own children to establish a Facebook group called Sweet Dreams and Good Night Wishes in a bid to make that transition easier for children as they enter the foster care system.
"We would often see kids changing places between foster carers and they would pack up their belongings in a garbage bag or one of those red and white stripy bags," she said.
"There was a really big stigma attached to kids putting their things in a garbage bag and feeling like their things were worthless or garbage."
Using their Facebook page, the Moreton Bay mum and her children put out the call for a list of essential items that would go into the care bags - pyjamas, a set of clothes, underwear, socks, toothbrush, a hairbrush and hair ties, before inviting people to add additional items like a soft cuddly toy or a book.
People responded in huge numbers, donating individual items and complete bags which were distributed to Child Safety offices and foster agencies from Maroochydore to Logan.
Some of the bags also included heartfelt notes from children offering encouragement to the child they'd never meet who was taken into care.
"Hey mate, I bought you some things. I hope you will like them. I am sure everything be ok. Just keep smiling," a 10-year-old wrote and put in a care bag.
Another boy, aged 12, included a reassuring note that everything was going to be alright.
"Hopefully you like what I got you and I just have one favor - take care of yourself. Don't let what other people think of you upset you because it doesn't matter - just follow your head and live life however you want."
Ms Kennedy said some children aren't always in care because of neglect or abuse.
"Sometimes kids come into care because a parent has to go to hospital and there's no family around to take care of the kids, so they will come in from school," Ms Kennedy said.
"(Giving a child a care bag) really takes the pressure off the foster carers in those first few hours when they're trying to make an attachment with the child, and it helps them take their mind off what's happening, even if it's just for a short while."
More than 350 care bags were distributed, and now Ms Kennedy hopes to take the project north - but she's going to need some help.
"I would love to get these bags into some of our more regional and remote areas. We're based in Brisbane, but I actually get a lot of messages from foster carers and foster care agencies in Mackay and Rockhampton who would love something like this," she said.
"Because we're just a family-based project, we don't have any capacity to get them there. So if there was anyone who knew of a way that we could get them up there, that would be ideal."
After the first drop of care bags, Ms Kennedy said she'd received touching letters from some of the youngsters who'd received them, as well as from their carers.
"One of the girls said 'thank you for the JoJo bow'. I've got a young daughter and I know how much she loves JoJo bows," she said.
"My kids are involved in the process and I like to let them lead it because they are kids."
"Often we go shopping and I'll pick something out and I'll go 'that's really great!' but the kids will go 'no mum - try this instead'."
"The letters just make it really worthwhile when you get some feedback and you know that in that moment, you were able to provide a child with a bit of comfort and took their mind off the situation for a minute."
To help, find Sweet Dreams and Good Night Wishes on Facebook.