When children enter the foster care system, their biological families don’t just fall off the face of the earth. In fact, during the process of rebuilding a lifestyle that can support the reuniting of parents and children, the Louisiana Department of Children & Family Services encourages weekly meetings in special visitation rooms, where family members can interact with one another to catch up, share developments, display new parenting skills, and even celebrate holidays, often under the observation of a social worker.
Local foster parents Cherith Craft and Brandee Sandusky, who we featured in our November 2018 cover story, have ample personal experience with these rooms—enough for them to have reached the conclusion that the stark and cluttered spaces could do with a bit of an update. So, last month, the interior designer and the artist combined their talents to refresh the rooms from top to bottom, exchanging broken toys for new playthings, uninspired colors for a fresh coat of paint, and blank walls for an array of artwork.
“A friend of mine, Laura Patterson, who is very involved with foster care in general, had gone to the visitation rooms one day to clean the toys, and she sent me pictures showing all the broken toys,” says Craft, who also volunteers with the faith-based Forgotten Initiative in Baton Rouge. “There are three rooms at the DCFS offices that are booked all day on the hour, which is why everything gets worn out so fast, and we just thought it was so sad. I posted a Reel on Instagram, and Brandee pushed it from her social media, and soon enough there were five or six of us involved with the project.”
To replace the rooms’ original peeling blue walls, Craft rejected suggestions of a yellow coat in favor of the more relaxed “Agreeable Gray” by Sherwin-Williams. Fresh carpeting and a donated leather sofa in a complementary neutral hue also worked to brighten the personality of the space, as did the addition of a multi-colored polka-dot speckled wall that adds interest without gaudiness. Though usually preferring original pieces to mass-produced artworks, Sandusky sourced inexpensive prints from Home Goods in order to stay on budget while crafting a calm and colorful palette. She also requested that donated toys—many of which were selected from Amazon and Target wish-lists easily accessible to donors—not be previously used, since foster children rarely get a chance to play with brand-new items.
From start to finish, including the collection of donated furniture items and toys, the process took about three weeks thanks to the team of volunteers, each navigating around the limited hours when the rooms weren’t in use. A small amount of work remains to be done, and the discovery of a fourth room used for old computer storage may soon become an additional project.
For Sandusky, the results are worth every effort.
“If a child needs a placement at midnight, and people are sleeping through the calls, that child may even have to stay overnight in those rooms until DCFS finds a new foster family for them,” she says. “As an artist myself, I know that colors and atmosphere and being surrounded by beautiful things really does impact your moods and how you feel and interact, and that’s why it’s extra important for children and families to feel safe in a peaceful environment.”
Currently, Sandusky and Craft are working to gather donations through a Target wishlist to help decorate the rooms for Christmas, since many families will have no other chance to celebrate the holidays together. Even a Christmas tree, says Sandusky, would be an important gesture toward letting families know that people care for them.
“It’s easy to distance yourself from what’s happening within the foster care system,” she adds, “but this is all happening right here in Mid City! This is all in Baton Rouge. There are people working and visiting those spaces every day, and I’m just glad I can continue educating people about the foster care system and how close it is to my heart.”
For details about how to help, check out Sandusky’s Target wishlist for upcoming Christmas decorations and room refreshes, or visit theforgotteninitiative.org/batonrougela.