are YOU guilty of treating foster kids like trash?

January 16, 2011 at 2:57 pm 49 comments

We all know the classic image of a young child in foster care standing there with a black trash bag either barely filled or bursting at the seams waiting for the worker to come and pick the child up.  Who the hell thought of putting foster kid’s belongings in trash bags?  Who?      Or used, beat-up old boxes?  Who?  Or pillow cases?  Who?

To you “big people,” it may seem like nothing…

but do you carry your “treasures” in a trash bag or a beat-up old box or a pillow case?

I don’t think so.

Trash is carried in trash bags.            Dirty laundry is carried in trash bags.

Dead bodies are carried in trash bags.

Treasures are not.

And so what, if the “treasures” a foster child has are old, stained, ripped, broken… they have meaning to the child… and it’s not TRASH.  But yet…it is treated that way the minute it is put into a trash bag or a beat-up old box.

Have you ever had a trash bag with your treasures rip apart in the middle of the sidewalk as you are being hurried into a worker’s car, leaving a foster home? ….Have you? Do you see how tough this is?  On one hand you are being rushed away, on another hand, your “treasures” are on the ground and you want to pick them up… On one hand, the foster parents already said “goodbye,” and on the other hand they start to help pick up the “treasures” on the ground, ……

For pete’s sake… if your foster child comes with trash bags and boxes, go out and buy a back-pack or a suitcase or a duffle bag. What the fuck?  Think about it.  You don’t have to buy an expensive one; but give the kid the same dignity that you would want for having to carry your “treasures.”

I am always amazed when I read on foster parent forums and blogs that they continue to pack their foster child’s stuff in trash bags and boxes.  THINK about how you would feel?   And even if the child is not feeling anything, it still IMPLIES that their stuff is trash.

Buy a fucking suitcase or backpack or duffle bag.

Goodwill and thrift shops even sell them….

… if you don’t want to buy a new one!

Does it solve the world’s problems?…. NO…. but it gives a foster child something to secure any treasures they are trying desparately to hold on to… An organized, safe place for the few things that have meaning in their lives, that keep moving with them.

We joke about it, but it’s not funny.  Trash bags are NOT meant to be luggage for foster children… and boxes aren’t any better and neither are pillow cases.

Isn’t it interesting how another population, the homeless, carry their items in bags and boxes…… another population considered “nuisances”…… a population that is made up of alot of aged-out foster kids…

You see, you don’t outgrow feeling like trash…that easily.


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49 Comments Add your own

  • 1. The Sleeper  |  January 16, 2011 at 3:55 pm



  • 2. mike  |  January 16, 2011 at 3:55 pm

    Thank you for drawing our attention to this.

    There are so many things we are not aware of as long as we are not on the receiving end.

    I plead guilty. Actually, I never came to the situation. But I might have done it if I had been in the situation.

    As of the use of trash bags for myself: I use them to store blankets and old clothes that I might recycle one day… When I moved, I did find them quite usefull (we have white, expensive trashbags for real trash, so they are easy to tell apart from the black, cheep trashbags I use for my things…)

  • 3. sundayk  |  January 16, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    Great post. I think any of us who have had to move from one placement to another have done so in luggage by Hefty, it is disrespectful. But our society values the convenience of adults over the souls of children, time and time again.

    • 4. fillingcalix  |  January 19, 2011 at 4:49 pm


      Your last line has stuck with over the last few days. Thank you for putting something so tragic in such clear language.


  • 5. MamatoMany  |  January 16, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    Your post made me cry. And brought back the memories of when my kiddos came to live with me. I remember telling my eldest that the trash bags were going away because they were disposable, and she wasn’t. What a powerful reminder. Thank you.

  • 6. michelle vandepol  |  January 16, 2011 at 5:57 pm

    good point. i am an avid thrifter and see nice bags all the time. my boys have funky thrifted backpacks for school. it is a love and respect thing that isn’t dependant on the $ — i agree

  • 7. butterflysblog  |  January 16, 2011 at 6:05 pm

    Sweet LT – What an awesome post. You are absolutely right about the trash bags. We show our respect for other humans by respecting their things, and we should be showing a lot more respect for both the foster child and their property. Thank you for sharing this post with us, LT.

  • 8. jay  |  January 16, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    Do you mind if i link to this on my blog?

  • 9. abby's momma  |  January 16, 2011 at 7:57 pm

    Yup- my kiddo came with trash bags and her foster mother was very nice. Boxes wouldn’t have bothered me or even brown paper bags. That’s how people move, but trash bags are something else.

  • 10. Julie  |  January 16, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    I just caught up on reading your blog from the beginning. It’s great! Thanks for writing. You have a lot of helpful info on how to help foster kids, which I’m sure will help many foster parents and foster kids. I hope you get to feeling better soon. Sinus infections are no fun!

  • 11. Crumble  |  January 16, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    I talked to a foster parent about this and she told me that she could not afford to go out and buy “luggage” every time she got a new foster child, and the bags would probably just be lost etc anyways.

    I wondered if she would send her own child (to camp, or a relatives or a sleep over…) with a garbage bag.

    I think some foster parents may do it without any malice (they get short notice that a child is moving, so they need to pack the goods).

    I have personally transported children with all their belongings in garbage bags. I have also been the worker who takes the child to McDonalds because their Mom did not show up to a visit (and the foster parents were “out” so the child could not return to their placement). I sure wish I had read your blog – learned some of your perspective) a few years ago. I sometimes wonder how many children I “lied” to, mislead, and hurt because of my ignorance.

    I think many of us “think” we are coming from a good place, but do not realise the consquences of our actions. I am thankful for your blog. And for the people who comment.

  • 12. fillingcalix  |  January 16, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    There are several programs raising funds for this cause. I thought this was a good overview of how to make a difference:

    • 13. jay  |  January 16, 2011 at 10:12 pm

      This is really cool. i’m going to see if theres one of these in the UK and if not I will set one up.

  • 14. tikunolam  |  January 16, 2011 at 10:10 pm

    There should be a requirement that the social workers have access to duffel bags to take with them when they have to pick up a child. It should be right in the budget. There is so much humiliation involved in the whole process, this one is an easy fix and it seems really crazy that it hasn’t been fixed with a policy of garbage bags not being permissible. It should be set in stone.

    My first kids came with luggage. My little girl whom I have now (and hope to adopt) had no need for luggage as at 17 months all she came with was the clothes she was in.

  • 15. Crumble  |  January 17, 2011 at 1:39 am

    I was just thinking that it should be a requirement for anyone working with foster children to attend courses where an ACTUAL former foster child tells about their expeirences. (And maybe foster parents should relate their experiences, and biological parents, and…) College teaches everything “by the book”. And people with good intentions remain ignorant about the effect they are having on the very people that they want to work with. Your blog has brought more understanding to me than 5 years of school. I did not attend college (university, as I am in Canada) to become a Social Worker (I originally was going to be a teacher), but even a teacher should be aware of the things you have shared on this blog.

  • 16. Lucy B  |  January 17, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Good post. So many times people do not realize the impact of their actions on a child’s feelings or self-esteem. You are pointing this out.

    While many children come into care with “nothing,” when they move homes, they leave the home with some things. Those things should not be carried like trash.

  • 17. m  |  January 17, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Good stuff LT. I am going to purchase a duffle bag and keep it in my car so if I ever meet a foster kid that doesn’t have one, I can give it to them.

  • 18. FosterAbba  |  January 17, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    When we were fostering, we had a social worker basically order us to put a departing child’s things in trash bags. The child had too much stuff to put in a suitcase (which she didn’t have, anyway) so we were going to carefully pack everything in cardboard boxes. The worker complained that she wanted it all packed in trash bags as cardboard boxes wouldn’t fit in her car.

    We ended up going out and buying several mesh laundry bags, because I was not going to see this child leave with her possessions bagged up like household trash.

  • 19. OnceLost  |  January 17, 2011 at 11:26 pm

    The trashbags… I never had a suitcase until i was in my early 20s… Before that, every placement I moved from, they stuffed clothes/shoes/toys/whatever into black trash bags. I’ve actually had foster parents put bags out on the sidewalk for my caseworkers to pick up, and had them hauled off by the dump trucks. Nice eh

    • 20. megztreasurebox  |  October 6, 2011 at 1:18 am

      Same with me. Every time I think about my childhood it’s the trashbags, oh the trashbags, and the message they sent. Seriously, it was such a picture of my life. That toy? That food? Those clothes? Those siblings? Those parents? It’s too complicated, so just trash it! That was the message I got! My life was trash. thank god I dont believe that now

  • 21. fosteringidahoteens  |  January 18, 2011 at 4:47 pm

    Our foster parent training actually discussed this issue (ex-social workers do the training). I was surprised when our foster kids were moved into our home using trash bags to carry their belongings. Now that I’ve experienced the system, it doesn’t surprise me any more.

    I’ve come to the conclusion that the state doesn’t want to do much more than care for a foster child’s physical safety and stay out of trouble with the judges (and LT points out that some agencies do a bad job of this low level of care).

    The circle needs to be expanded to include more perspectives. Right now – it’s a closed group of people calling the shots.

  • 22. shauna  |  January 18, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    I would have to plead guilty in a few instances. I always tried for boxes, and all our children had duffels as required by our agency, but in the end, I found it difficult to pack everything into some form of decent package, and trashbags filled in the gap.
    Most of our children came with trashbags only. While we weren’t able to do away with them, we did make it more of a ‘normal’ move by ensuring that they had some luggage, even if they also had trashbags. Most of the children were able to fill a vehicle on departure though, so luggage alone wasn’t really practical.
    I like your blog, it is really nice that you share your perspective with us. We need to understand, and I’m sure you must realize that, as children, our kids can’t always share their feelings and perspective with us. What you’re giving the world is invaluable.
    I did want to touch on your feeling that you are bad because no one wanted you. I just want to say that sometimes foster parents are not given a choice to keep kids, sometimes they have the choice, but not the means, sometimes they have the means, but not the resources, sometimes the resources, but not the support. It may not be that all of those people didn’t want you, some may not have been able for many reasons. I just want you to know that, because I was a foster parent who at times, had no choice but to have the children leave. To this day, there isn’t a single child that lived with me that I don’t want still here with me, that I don’t still love. Maybe none of them wanted you, I’m not trying to say you’re wrong, you know your life, but I wanted to give you another perspective from someone on the other side.
    I love you for sharing, keep going and be strong!

  • 23. fosteringidahoteens  |  January 21, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    I’ve been thinking about this, and I think that I’m comfortable moving a foster child the same way that I would move myself and my own belongings.

    I’ve moved a number of times – and everything moves in boxes. In fact, if you pay someone to prepare your stuff to be moved (which is common when certain high tech businesses require you to relocate), they will use boxes. When a person goes to U-haul to rent a van for a move, you can purchase boxes for your stuff.

    So, garbage bags – that’s not cool. Boxes – it’s what I’d use for myself, including my clothes. When I go on trips, however, I use suitcases. When my foster kids when on a trip or had a visit, we supplied them with a backpack and a suitcase or duffle.

  • 24. ps3729  |  April 7, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    Well, my first thought was that I’ve moved things in bags many times, including this past weekend. However, fact is that *I* am not a foster child with a foster child’s background or perspective.

    My current foster children came with a tub of “stuff” (former foster mom said she didn’t even know what all was in there) and several trash bags and a box. As I went through all their stuff, took inventory, etc, I repackaged it. Anything we weren’t using went into bags (btw, that were in the tub!), the tub, and a box. NONE went in a trash bag. I will have to go purchase a bag or two to hold everything, but though they have an entire closet full of the bags and tub and such, NONE will go home in a trash bag whether they care or not.

    Seriously, there is NO reason a foster parent can’t buy a bag or several bags for the kids! We get a stipend to help us take care of them. SOMETIME in the time you have them, whether two weeks, two months, two years, or whatever, you could pick some up! Thanks to understanding better, I will be picking up a few bags at the beginning of placements so they will be here for my kiddos when they leave.

  • 25. Becca  |  April 28, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    Yep, almost every foster child I’ve worked with has shown up with their things in trash bags. We always make sure they leave with real luggage when the time comes.

  • 26. Foster mom  |  July 23, 2011 at 4:05 pm

    I am currently packing for a young man who wanted to move and he was moved with 30 minutes notice. (I hate that) He left with a duffle bag and backpack of clothes. He has a suitcase I am packing up after washing all of his clothes. He has enough clothes for about 7-8 suitcases! I will be going to the Dollar Store and pick up some of those laundry bags,plus I think I still may have some duffel bags I picked up on clearance a few years ago for about $3 each just for this purpose. The rest of his things will be going in boxes that I would use to move my own things. He came with a lot of things in garbage bags. In fact, some of his things are still in those bags, as he never bothered to completely unpack.

  • 27. samantha  |  August 8, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    I remember when my daughter came to live with us. She came with several trash bags and one backpack that had several holes. That alone made me want to cry. Having all your life stuffed into trash bags…But then when I got home and started going through the bags I did cry. 90% of what was in there was all 2-3 sizes too small. All her shoes (except for the pair we had recently bought her) came with no soles and were falling apart. To this day, that memory is one of my strongest and saddest memories. Foster kids do need to be treated with more dignity. Buy them duffel bags or suitcases and make sure their clothes fit. Also, lets try to make sure they have some toys that move with them. My daughter came with only three toys: a barbie doll, a Didj (leapfrog video game) that didnt’ work and an etch-a-sketch that we had bought her a few months before.

  • 28. Missy  |  August 17, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    I heard stories from foster kids before I was licensed. So I was ready for the garbage bags, the clothes that didn’t fit, the shoes. We had extra backpacks, extra clothes, extra toys, extra books. We thought we were ready.

    But I seriously wasn’t ready to drive to the hospital and be handed a kid who had only a diaper. No joke. Everything else he had on said, “Property of X hospital.”

    The worst part is that we got (literally) half an hour’s notice. It was delayed because of some legal kerfluffle so we had time to go home and put a few things in a bag just in case. I can’t imagine what we would have done if the legal issues hadn’t happened. Would we seriously have had to walk out of the hospital holding a half-naked infant?

    It goes to show that you can work in the system, do your research, do your volunteering, hear the life stories, and still be absolutely floored by the system.

  • 29. Sarah  |  August 24, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    I have been involved in the DCF and they provided me with a duffel bag. Thank God. Because I had all my things in a basket, some of which were private and I didn’t want anyone to see. Thank you for writing about this. Keep in mind that the system doesn’t think about these things. Social workers are only trying to do their jobs. my social worker only has a baby, and is young, and has very little experience. So as a teenager I have to be honest with her about what I need. DCF has improved. They background check most people, and do things just to cover their ass from getting sued. But I totally understand.

  • 30. Jes  |  September 29, 2011 at 11:06 pm

    AMEN. I recall watching a feel-good news piece on some 10 year old who organized a fundraiser to get luggage (duffles, backpacks, etc.) for kids in foster care in my area. The very next day I happened to be in Goodwill (actually, I ‘happen’ to be there pretty frequently) and noticed a wall of great luggage (OK, so maybe some of it was 70’s avocado green, but I thought it was pretty awesome) along the wall. Average price: $7. How in the world does a child end up with a garbage bag? I don’t understand this; FPs are compensated for the care of children… doesn’t this qualify?

    Anyway, I just stumbled upon your blog as I was looking for suggestions to welcome the 2 kidos moving into our home tomorrow – I have a background in special education, but recently quit to focus on foster parenting. This has been a wonderful site. Thank you.

  • 31. Another Time  |  October 11, 2011 at 8:58 pm

    I just moved and had to use trashbags and boxes acquired through places like dollar stores and grocery stores (banana boxes are awful!!) I hated seeing my old stuffed animals (hell no to parting with them EVER) in a trash bag. I apologized to each one as I put it in the bag. It SUCKS using trashbags and smelly boxes to move and watching them handled without care. Boxes don’t stay fresh forever. They start to make your things smell like puke in a short amount of time. Even purchased boxes.

  • 32. Heidi Venture  |  December 29, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    Hey, is it okay if I use your photos for an email newsletter I’m writing? I’ll link back.
    Heidi Venture
    Foster Parent Recruiter
    Enemy of Garbage Bag Luggage.

  • 33. T  |  March 26, 2012 at 2:09 pm

    From your fingertips to everyone involved with foster children ears…

  • 34. Erica  |  September 16, 2012 at 7:56 pm

    Thank you for your honesty and insight! I found your blog today, and I love it. To be honest, this never occurred to us until it was pointed out at a conference I went to. My first two foster kids came to us with stuff in garbage bags, so, when they returned home it didn’t occur to us that we shouldn’t use them. After having this pointed out it completely made sense and made me feel terrible.

  • 35. Denise  |  October 9, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    You can usually buy a small light weight trunk. I use to get each of my kids one when they first would stay with me. These trucks were only around $15- 20, and good first investment. We would change the lock to a padilock, so our kids would get a sense of security and privacy. It continued to be their property when they left.

  • 36. Sarah  |  November 25, 2012 at 6:59 pm

    I’m setting my home up for foster children. I’ve read books from foster kids sides and from foster parents. The trash bag thing always bugged me. I swore that if my first foster kid showed up with a her things in a trashbag we would be getting her a beautiful luggage set to replace it. I can’t have kids and I’m hoping to adopt through fostering. I’m so sorry that you were made to think you were nothing. I wish things had been different for you. I wish you could have had a mother like mine and a family that wrapped there arms around you and made you feel like you were a wonderful treasure they would never lose. I hope one day you find that family. Either with a church or spouse and your own children. May you have love and happiness that you deserve.

  • 37. Jasmine  |  September 25, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    As a foster Mom I promise to never do this to my kiddos! I have already stocked up on cute bags. You should check out this organization they supply “sweet cases” to kids in foster care and other awesome things, they just took 75 kids to Disneyland!

  • 38. susie  |  November 29, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    As a soon to be foster parent. Been doing paper work for what seems like forever. This blog is amazing. I was a foster kid in kinship most of my life. This blog has given me greater insite to what my own personal knowledge is. Thanks for writing these. It helps me get back to what is the most important (the foster child – not me).

  • 39. Bondsie  |  December 11, 2013 at 10:42 am

    I am not making excuses for people that are putting these children’s things in trash bags but I think that the people doing it were not properly taught about putting things in actual luggage. In social work classes I was always taught that just because it is the “norm” to you, trash bags an just about everything else may be the norm to others. That’s why it is important for foster care agencies should make it a point to make sure children get luggage before they are ever moved out. My first experience with transporting a child that had trash bags as thier luggage was terrible, because the child’s things were breaking out of the bags… Nothing was folded… And it was just like the child was being thrown out like trash. It is the responsibility of these agencies to make sure that whatever money foster parents are receiving for the child that are also providing for the well being of the child, this is what gives them a chance instead of making them feel like trash. I have seen foster parents get big checks for the children and the social worker tells them to get things for the needs of the children…. They need to elaborate on needs…

  • 40. Cynthia Stower  |  February 6, 2014 at 9:02 pm

    We are working for a wonderful agency that is all about re-unifying the family. I was a respite worker for three years and I saw the difference between children who were loved and children who were basically a pay cheque. It angered me to see children come to my house with a box full of clothes that they had packed into it. We will be fostering very soon now, and I promise that I will buy the children who come to my house each a nice suitcase, one that they will be proud to carry as they go back to their natural parent’s home.
    Thank you for these thought provoking posts, they are teaching me things that I should have learned in training, but there just was not time enough for everything. Again, thank you!

  • 41. Lacey  |  August 18, 2014 at 12:56 pm

    We are getting ready for our foster child to move out of foster care and in with a family friend (her mom is working towards reunification – hurray!). All of her stuff arrived in garbage bags. Before I read this article, I thought it was a little… odd. So, I bought duffle bags and packed up her out-of-season clothes. When we pack up her shoes, they will go in a big shoe box! There is definitely many “norms” in foster care that just aren’t normal. With everything, I ask myself, “what would I do for my home-made kids?” And then I do that. It’s really quite simple.

  • 42. Amelia  |  January 8, 2015 at 12:20 am

    I have been a foster parent for 3.5 years and I have never once understood how someone could move a vulnerable traumatized child in such a way. Our children are not trash, their belongings are not trash. I started a gofundme page to raise money to provide duffle bags and plastic storage bins for kids who are in foster care in Oregon and Arizona. I am working with my agency to make a policy preventing foster parents from moving children in broken boxes and trash bags. I would love to quote you on my gofundme page. I will make sure to link to your blog. If you have any questions/concerns my email is My gofundme page is

  • 43. gain larger  |  January 11, 2015 at 1:35 am

    Nice response in return of this issue with solid arguments and
    telling everything regarding that.

  • 44. Bikim  |  April 4, 2015 at 4:11 am

    Hello I am currently starting at project that donates new or slightly used luggage or duffle bags to local Philadelphia foster kids…. I came across your post and thought it was perfect and very straight from the heart… Thx u.. My question is the image u have on this page with the young man pulling a trash bag would be perfect for my flyer.. How do I go about using this pic from your page thx u soooooo much

  • 45. B  |  April 6, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    Hello I am currently starting at project that donates new or slightly used luggage or duffle bags to local Philadelphia foster kids…. I came across your post and thought it was perfect and very straight from the heart… Thx u.. My question is the image u have on this page with the young man pulling a trash bag would be perfect for my flyer.. How do I go about using this pic from your page thx u soooooo much

  • 46. Amanda  |  January 5, 2017 at 3:05 pm

    Hi! We just started a program here in VA to keep this very thing from happening. Packs of Love. I came across your post, and so totally on point. Just so you know there are some of us out there that are working to make the trash bags disappear. We can’t fix everything but we can help some.

  • 47. Cecily  |  May 6, 2017 at 10:20 am

    While I totally sympathize and agree it is TOTALLY inappropriate to move a child between foster homes with a trash bag, I have to admit that I am pro-using bags when moving the child’s belongings out of the original bio-home, for this reason: these origin homes are MUCH more likely have bed bug infestations and/or lice (due to higher volumes of trafficking through them, higher volume of people likely to have spent nights in flop houses or other high-traffic/low-sanitation environments, etc.).

    We have gotten bed bugs from allowing people in this situation to stay the night with us before, and it took two nightmarish years (YEARS) to get rid of those horrible bugs (using two different reputable prof. companies). That is two years of keeping 75% of our belongings packed up in plastic bags in the attic, of weekly trips to the laundry mat to “treat” ALL of our bedding, clothes, and stuffed animals, of going to work with embarrassing bite welts covering my face, arms, and legs, of sleepless nights feeling little bugs crawl on you and itchy bites, of anxiety knowing these awful bugs are eating up your sweet sleeping baby, of having to throw out perfectly good furniture because it was “too deep” to be treated, of spending $1000’s on new furniture on top of $1000’s for professional treatment.

    Bags allow for these children’s items to be treated without putting the child or home at further risk of a nasty infestation. Living in a bed-bug infested home where the family DOES care and is attempting treatment is incredibly stressful, exhausting, and would ultimately be an awful situation for a foster child. I wish there were an ideal solution, but unfortunately it is not an ideal situation. We can all only do the best we can to do what is best for the child both physically and emotionally.

    Thank you for keeping up this blog – it truly has been an inspiring and enlightening resource for us as foster parents.

    • 48. Cecily  |  May 6, 2017 at 10:21 am

      I do like one poster’s suggestion of a plastic bins – that would be both safe/sanitary and much more dignifying for the child.

  • 49. linda  |  July 13, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    Hey, I know this is from FOREVER ago, but we are looking into fostering when we get the space to but would like to help in the mean time. In your opinion, would getting just bags be okay? I see lots of organizations that fill a duffel bag with stuff, but would it be better to just have an empty, nice, bag for the treasures they already have? Just wondering.


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