- Associated Press - Sunday, October 11, 2015

ELIZABETHTON, Tenn. (AP) - Imagine the shock children go through when they are removed from parental custody and sent to a foster home. In addition to the emotional trauma the children experience, often they are forced to leave behind their clothing, toys, school supplies, even their toothbrushes and combs.

That is the reason for the existence of Cap the Gap for Foster Care for Carter, Johnson and Unicoi counties.

Joni Cannon is president of the organization, which she said was inspired by the outstanding work being done by the Sullivan County Cap the Gap. Cannon said the cap being closed refers to the gap between being a foster child and a child nurtured in a loving family.

The state’s Department of Children’s Services investigates allegations of child abuse and neglect. The Elizabethton office serves the children of Carter, Johnson and Unicoi counties and sometimes the decision is made to place endangered children in foster homes.

Cannon said that while a child is living in foster care, the state provides only the basic needs of food, clothing and shelter.

“These children have so many other needs that are not met or even addressed,” Cannon said.

One of the most extreme cases is when a child is taken from a building where a working methamphetamine laboratory is found during the middle of the night. The child first goes through a detoxification process, then must wait around in a disposable decontamination suit until a foster home is found. None of the child’s decontaminated possessions - clothes, toys or school supplies - are forwarded to the child.

Cannon said Cap the Gap strives to meet the needs DCS is not able to meet. Cap the Gap does that by organizing a strong foundation of community partners to assist in meeting those immediate needs, as well as the Cap the Gap longer range goals, such as making sure every foster child is remembered on his or her birthday with a birthday card and a small amount of money, and making sure every foster child gets a Christmas stocking.

Now in its third year of operation, Cap the Gap has made a difference. There are several cabinets placed against a wall in the DCS office that Cap the Gap has filled with clothing in sizes for newborns to 18-year-olds. The cabinets also contain snacks for that awful first few hours of a child’s being removed from parental custody. There are also school supplies.

Another cabinet is filled with hygiene items, such as toiletries and diapers. For those items a child may immediately need but are not in the cabinets, Cap the Gap provides gift cards so DCS personnel can purchase the items for the child.

The cabinets were specially made for Cap the Gap by the prisoners at Northeast Correctional Complex. But the cabinets don’t contain everything a child may need, such as a musical instrument for a talented musician so he or she can play in the high school band, or fees for extracurricular activities, or high school graduation fees, or summer camp tuition to Appalachian Christian Camp.

Right now, Cap the Gap is gearing up for its Christmas project of stuffing Christmas stockings. Polly Barreiro is sewing the stockings. She also makes tote bags for the supplies given to the children.

Cap the Gap is also working to provide some Christmas presents to foster children from two lists: a wish list and a needs list.


Information from: Johnson City Press, https://www.johnsoncitypress.com

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