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A late-night knock at the door—someone telling you to quickly gather what you need—leaving your house in the dark….

Children often enter the foster care system with nothing but the clothes they are wearing—or in the case of babies or toddlers, just a diaper. At best, they might have had a few minutes to toss what they can of their possessions into a box or a garbage bag, before leaving their home for an unfamiliar place—spending the night in a cold social services office, trying to find space in a chaotic group house, or entering a foster home inhabited by strangers. Any item that can become their own possession—a blanket, a pillow—and travel with them can provide comfort and security.

Sleep Tight Kids founder Jill Schwarzkopf with Madison County Sheriff J.E. Harwood

Sleep Tight Kids founder Jill Schwarzkopf with Madison County Sheriff J.E. Harwood.

Sleep Tight Kids works with the Department of Social Services in eight surrounding counties—Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Madison, McDowell, Transylvania and Yancey—to reach these children, delivering bedding, stuffed animals, pajamas, nightlights and more. Partnering with DSS allows Sleep Tight Kids to assist the largest number of kids in need at that moment, and with your help and donations Sleep Tight Kids can expand our reach into even more counties.

Currently, Buncombe County has about 285 kids in the foster care system at any given time. That translates to around 55 kids per 10,000, compared to an overall North Carolina average of 40 per 10,000. And while other nearby counties have smaller populations, and therefore a lower number of kids in the foster system, many have a higher ratio. The ratio of children in foster care in Madison, Haywood, and Yancey is more than double the state average in each county. The total number of kids in foster care for the eight counties hovers around 730.

In October 2015:

  • Buncombe: 286 kids in foster care at one time / 55.2 per 10,000 / 432 total kids came through the foster system past year
  • Haywood: 101 kids in foster care at one time / 86.7 per 10,000 / 149 total kids came through the foster system past year
  • Henderson: 142 kids in foster care at one time / 61.3 per 10,000 / 206 total kids came through the foster system past year
  • Jackson: 49 kids in foster care at one time / 55.8 per 10,000 /65 total kids came through the foster system past year
  • Madison: 41 kids in foster care at one time / 97.9 per 10,000 / 73 total kids came through the foster system past year
  • McDowell: 38 kids in foster care at one time / 39.3 per 10,000 / 60 total kids came through the foster system past year
  • Transylvania: 42 kids in foster care at one time / 62.9 per 10,000 / 55 total kids came through the foster system past year
  • Yancey: 30 kids in foster care at one time / 86.6 per 10,000 / 45 total kids came through the foster system past year

 

Statistics are culled from Fostering Court Improvement, a collaborative database by the School of Social Work at UNC, Barton Child Law and Policy Clinic at Emory University and the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law. Numbers are extrapolated in cases where county child population is less than 10,000.

Madison County DSS staff receives stuffed animals and blankets from Sleep Tight Kids.

Madison County DSS staff receives stuffed animals and blankets from Sleep Tight Kids.

Statewide, the number of children needing foster care has gone up in each of the past four years, rising by nearly 20 percent. Meanwhile, the number of homes licensed for foster care has dropped, making placement even more difficult and the instability and trauma felt by the kids all the more acute. In Buncombe County there are roughly 85 licensed homes for nearly 300 children. In the face of the shortage, children might be sent to foster families farther away from their birth families, making reunification harder, and further isolating the kids.

A security blanket is needed all the more.

A child receives a stuffed animal from Sleep Tight Kids.

A child receives a stuffed animal from Sleep Tight Kids.

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A year and a half ago Natasha’s options seemed grim. She was struggling with drug addiction and a series of transient and abusive living situations that had eventually devolved into homelessness. She had given up her son to his father. A self-destructive cycle of cocaine and men continued, and then Natasha discovered she was pregnant again—with no idea who the father was. Terrified and alone, she found her way to the Western Carolina Rescue Mission in downtown Asheville.

natasha5  Sleep Tight Kids founder Jill Schwarzkopf with Natasha and Eliana

Sleep Tight Kids founder Jill Schwarzkopf first met Natasha there, delivering a bundle of baby clothes for the soon-to-arrive girl. Natasha just wanted to talk—about her son, about how she wanted to get her life together. She made Jill promise to come back. After the baby, Eliana, was born, Sleep Tight Kids returned with blankets, baby books, soaps, powders, and stuffed animals. Natasha told them she was working to get out of the Mission, to get housing for herself and Eliana. She asked for help in eating healthier, and for clothes to wear to job interviews.

In May Natasha spoke at the Sleep Tight Kids fundraiser at Bold Rock Cider. As she told her story to a room full of people, you could hear a pin drop. These experiences, she said, had led her to realize that there are people who care about her—people who don’t even need to know her in order to care. Natasha said she could feel that support through the items she’d been given—the baby clothes, blankets, toys—and feeling that connection was part of what pushed her to keep working to get her life on track, and gave her hope that she might one day have her five-year-old son back with her.

Two months later, Natasha called Jill. After a year at the Western Carolina Rescue Mission, Natasha told Jill, she and Eliana had been approved for housing. She was calling from her very own apartment. Natasha had gotten a solid job, and was on the path to making her own way, independently supporting herself and Eliana. And—the crowning joy—she was seeing her son again.

  Sleep Tight Kids found Jill Schwarzkopf with Natasha

Government-funded social services often don’t stretch beyond formula and diapers for infants. There’s a huge need to fill that gap—not just to feed children, but to clothe them, let them snuggle in something warm, give them something to play with. In short, these items make them feel cared for, even by faraway or anonymous caregivers. As Jill puts it:

“WE’RE ACTUALLY PROVIDING HOPE TO BABIES AND MOMS,
LETTING PEOPLE KNOW WE CARE ABOUT THEM.”

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