HANCOCK COUNTY — The blankets all look a little bit different.
One, with patches of rubber ducks, is small enough for a toddler to clutch. Others span several feet, ready to cover a distressed child, head to toe, with their warmth.
They all bear the same message, on a tag pinned to each: “This ‘comfort quilt’ was made for you. Wrap it around you whenever you feel alone, scared or sad. It is filled with hugs from people who care about you.”
A local quilt club has begun sewing the quilts for Hancock County foster children, to give them a bit of security and support in an uncertain and traumatic time; the quilts fill a gap created when a similar program went by the wayside some years ago, officials said. Caseworkers at the local department of children’s services give each child a comfort blanket when they are removed from their homes, officials said.
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It doesn’t seem like much — a simple blanket with an encouraging message, but for children who have suddenly been torn from all that’s familiar, such an act of kindness can make a big difference, officials said. In some cases, that patch of cloth is the only thing a child takes with them.
Officials welcome any support of the foster care system as the number of cases climbs; within the past year, the number of Hoosier children placed in foster homes increased by more than 700, said Lori Shaw, Indiana Department of Child Services regional foster care specialist.
In April 2016, there were 6,445 children in non-relative foster care statewide. This year, that number has risen to 7,166, officials said. In the four-county region including Hancock County, there were 379 children in non-relative foster care in April 2016; this year, that number has risen to 410, records show.
The DCS employees charged with finding the best temporary situation for a child in need are often juggling a dozen cases at once, said James Wide, deputy director of communications for the Indiana Department of Child Services. Those caseworkers appreciate anything that helps them smooth that transition, Shaw said.
Baker encouraged the Bag Ladies Quilt Club, which meets at Cross of Grace Lutheran Church in New Palestine, to begin making the comfort quilts in November after she heard stories of children being removed from their homes and not being able to take a single possession along for comfort. The grandmother of four was heartbroken, knowing how important special stuffed animals or blankets have been to her children and grandchildren throughout their childhoods.
It’s not always possible for children to bring their own things, for a number of reasons, Shaw said. Sometimes, children are picked up by DCS at school, without going home first. Other times, the home they are removed from is unsanitary, or officials fear suspected drug use could have coated a child’s possession with hazardous materials.
“When a child comes into our care, we do our absolute best to make sure they can take what they need from their homes,” Shaw said. “When that’s not possible, we try to provide them with something to have as their own that will make them feel more comfortable.”
The caseworkers at the Hancock County Department of Child Services often find themselves grabbing an age- and gender-appropriate blanket from their supply to prepare for a new arrival, knowing a child in their care could be sad or frightened, said caseworker Jessica Clagg.
The Bag Ladies Quilt Group has given more than 125 blankets of different sizes to the Hancock County office, starting with holiday gifts at an event for foster families held at the same church where the group meets, Baker said.
And the group members enjoy making the blankets, a process they have down to a science, said member Nancy Hunnicut. The group meets once a month and spends the day creating the blankets in assembly-line fashion from donated fabric. One or two people measure the tops and bottoms, others sew, and more tie the layers of the blankets together with embroidery floss.
While about 25 people have donated their effort and skill toward the project over the past few months, the credit goes to Baker, Hunnicut said.
“She has jumped in with both feet,” she said. “It’s a wonderful project, and she has done a tremendous job.”
When Baker learned the local department had lost funding for a past program providing blankets to children entering the foster system, it became her mission to step in, she said.
Because the children are in protective custody, Baker has never had the chance to see them receive the fruits of her group’s labor, but Shaw and local caseworkers have told her the children love the blankets.
“Just to hear that is enough for me,” she said.
Bag Ladies Quilt Group, based in New Palestine, creates comfort quilts for county foster children using donated materials and monetary donations.
To donate money or fabric to the project, address donations to: