The County Voice

Backpacks for Foster Youth: Making a Little Magic at CSAC’s Annual Meeting

There’s not much that Counties do that’s more heart-wrenching than having to remove a child from an unsafe or abusive home. Sometimes it is the only recourse and the foster care system provides a necessary bridge for that child. Due to the difficult and chaotic nature of these situations, the transitions do not typically happen as part of a plan or schedule. The child often leaves behind clothing, basic necessities and other personal items, and it may be some time before they can replace those items. The trauma of being removed from their home and the transition to foster care is often made worse by the lack of anything familiar and comforting in the first few hours after the transition.

It was with these situations in mind that we added a new element to our Annual Meeting this year—a service project to help foster youth. Each year, we design the content of our meeting to help County Supervisors and senior staff be even more effective in their core mission of providing vital services and programs to their communities. Representatives from all 58 of California’s counties convened in Sacramento in late November to learn, to share, and to set priorities for CSAC for the coming year.

This year, as we convened in Sacramento County, we also wanted to give county leaders, corporate partners and other attendees a hands-on opportunity to do something for foster youth in the Sacramento region. The service event was made possible by the generous sponsorships of the CSAC Finance Corporation, Kaiser and the Stuart Foundation. We also benefitted from volunteers from the Institute for Local Government. The result was something just a little bit magical.

In the middle of our Exhibit Hall, we had a table set up with backpacks and six different groups of items—for three age ranges and for boys and girls. The items were developed through county and community conversations and included t-shirts and sweats, pajamas, leggings, pens and pencils, small flashlights and stuffed animals—even earbuds and gift cards for the older kids. We asked attendees at our Annual Meeting to take a few minutes to fill a backpack or two with these items—and they did not disappoint. Together as a county family, we created almost 500 backpacks filled with the things that can help make an abrupt transition just a little easier.

The concept of giving comfort to small children is universal. Combine that with the simple act of doing something for someone else, knowing that person will never know that you did it, and you get magic. If you were there, you saw it. If you participated, maybe you felt a little of the magic, too. We had Supervisors and county staff from all over the state filling backpacks. Some kept coming back to “do just a couple more.” And while we were only doing this for a total of five hours over two days, we hit our goal and filled approximately 500 backpacks.

Our world is not always the way we wish it were. Sometimes, children have to be removed from their homes. Sometimes, they need help to feel a little less lost, less afraid, a little more loved. Most people in county government got into public service because, in the long run, we are helping our communities to be better places in which to live. This project is a very real way to make a child’s world just a little bit better at a moment of crisis! We will do something similar at our next Annual Meeting.

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