So here is where the stigma with “second hand” really bothers me. The foster care system (in general) places a high value/standard on new over second hand. DCS has its reasons and plenty of people with good intentions buy into those reasons and don’t see their hand in making changes as having anything but a positive outlook. However life is rarely so clear cut.

When going through foster training classes (a multiple week process called PATH) we learn a variety of things from medical administration and CPR to a variety of scenarios we may find ourselves in. One big thing is learning the difference between being poor and neglect.

Our instructor made a big deal over the fact that someone can be poor, have a clean home and nice things BUT that doesn’t mean they are dirty, or scum of the earth. Why would she need to say that? Well because our society thinks that poor means you are “trailer trash” or scum of the earth. That poor people are lazy and get what they deserve. Even in the definition of “poor” one of the meanings states “low quality”. There is a difference in being poor (lacking funding) and being of low quality. The poor in our society still have value.

Instead of focusing on how the rich get richer through the sweat of the masses, the bulk of society focuses on the multiple meanings of the word poor and false statements attached to being poor. Thus devalues the people who are in many ways forming the infrastructure of our society.

With a view like that it is no wonder that our instructor put such a high value on making sure that our class, and others taking foster training, understand that being poor does not equal neglect. That even the rich can be neglectful. How a lot of cases of neglect come not from the truly poor but the upper lower class through to the middle class.

This builds a case over understanding what neglect really means. It puts an emphasis on how poor people can have value, a good clean home and never once have a situation that would need the involvement of DCS.

In foster training, one week we learned the difference between being poor and those who are neglectful. Another week we learned about some of the conditions children are found in. We also learned that when many children are taken from their dwelling that any “stuff” that is brought with them is often bagged up in garbage bags. The reason could be a duffle bag or suitcase was unavailable. Perhaps any available bags at the residence were unfit (dirty, drug covered, or bug infested).

This juxtaposition of learning what poor truly means, what being neglectful is, and the mental image of an infested residence where not even one clean bag could be found is all rather overwhelming. It is easy to see how it can all get muddled in someone’s head and evoke strong negative feelings.

The idea of a child leaving their home with only a garbage bag filled with an odd mix of belongings always pulls at people’s heart strings. It is no wonder then that a large number of organizations have popped up over the past five years with the sole purpose of making sure no child enters the system with their belongings in a garbage bags.

Most of these organizations are grass root based. Some have been formed by teenagers who want to help make lives better for others.  A few of these organizations don’t just provide a bag for belongings (like a duffle bag) they also make sure a stuffed animal or blanket is included. Some even go out of their way to make sure new clothing is available to CPS workers for children coming into care. All wonderful intentions especially when trying to make a scared child feel more like themselves.

So where is my argument? What is my problem? How does “second hand” even fit in here?

The fostering classes provide scenarios that seem grim and often are. DCS paints pictures of abuse and neglect. These new non-profits see a need to provide children entering the system with new items. If foster parents or birth parents provide clothing or shoes that are not brand new, often they are questioned, criticized and made to feel less. Sometimes they are called out as being neglectful as they are not providing a “new” item. Why?

These children deserve the best; they need to feel valued; and used items make these children feel less than.  The stigma surrounding the second hand item is that it is used and therefore dirty or less. One never wants a child in the system to feel less.

I won’t argue that children entering the system deserve the same opportunities as all other children in our society. What I will argue is that having something new is what will change their lives or that somehow receiving something second hand will in effect make them feel second hand. Getting a new pair of shoes or a shirt does often brighten the day of anyone, especially someone who has had grimy, filthy clothes and shoes filled with holes. But I will argue that a nice second hand outfit that appeals to that person will have the exact same effect.  How do I know? Lots of personal experience most of it first-hand.

Beyond my own experiences as a child receiving second-hand items I see how my own nieces and nephews react. They are always ecstatic. They love consignment shops and thrift stores as much as they love Target.

I have seen children in very poor conditions be offered a bag filled with washed second hand items in great condition and love them as equally as they love the brand new items. They never know the difference between the second hand items and the new ones because I remove price tags off of everything before I give them. To them everything is bright and new.  The key is to get them things that are tailored to their likes. As long as all the second hand items are in great condition then no one should ever really care. Both new and used items have a value.

The take-away is that one does not have to equate second hand or used with something dirty or shameful. As long as we (the providers) make sure that the items are clean, spot/tear free, in-style, and tailored to their likes, well there is no “big deal” between something being second hand or new. It is all based on our (society) outlook.

Am I wrong for purchasing second hand items for children in foster care? If I am purchasing stained, torn or items ready to fall apart, then yes. However I am not.

All second hand items I buy are in decent to very good condition. Most times I let the kids pick out their own clothes from the thrift store. The kids find their own value in the items they choose.

Am I only purchasing second hand items for my foster kids? No.

So on two accounts I am not doing anything wrong. Everyone in my house has second hand items. I am not singling out any foster child in my home and making them feel any less than myself. Also I am not only buying second hand items. There is always a mixture of new and gently used that way everyone has a good choice of clothing.

I do want to take a moment and point out that DCS as a whole (at least in our area) fundamentally has nothing wrong with second hand items. Our DCS has even supported a locally formed organization that provides an “open closet” with both new and used items available to foster parents. The goal of DCS is for every child to have items that are weather appropriate, clean, free of stains and tears.

Another standard is that everyone in the household be treated the same. So if a birth child wears second hand items then yes second hand items for a foster child are fine. However if no one in your house wears second hand items then it is wrong to force a foster child to wear second hand items.

All that said, there are plenty of case-workers who look down on, and question, foster parents and birth families for providing second hand items to children in care. They place a higher value on new items and look at the birth families and foster parents as being neglectful for providing used items. Faced with those case-workers, and well meaning volunteers or organizations who only value using “new” items, it can be hard to be a family who believes in using second hand items.

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