"These kids are wards of the state, so they are all our kids," she said. "We owe them love, care, and safety."
Editor's note: This article was originally published on June 10, 2021. It has since been updated.
Brittany Burcham, a foster mom in Birmingham, Alabama who houses teenage girls placed in protective state custody, has a special routine for every emergency placement that comes to her house. Bearing in mind how scared and confused youngsters in such situations are likely to be, she goes to great lengths to make sure that their stay with her is comfortable. One of the ways in which she does this is by providing every new emergency placement a special welcome basket that includes anything they may have forgotten when packing for their sudden arrival.
The thoughtfulness behind Burcham's welcome baskets won many hearts online after she posted a TikTok video explaining what the first night with a new emergency placement looks like in her house. The video was watched almost 15 million times on the platform as aspiring foster parents took inspiration from Burcham's attention to detail and the special human touch behind each step in the routine. "I learned what's needed in my welcome basket over time," she told BuzzFeed about the importance of her welcome baskets. "When a kid is given a trash bag and told to pack their items [in] 10 minutes, most of them do NOT think about deodorant or a toothbrush."
"They're grabbing clothes, sentimental items, and their makeup. So... I have a foster closet stocked with [necessities], plus other [items] that I don't include in every basket but have available, like razors, underwear, socks, and hair products for my African American girls," Burcham added. In her video, she explained that once they are settled in, she takes her foster child to a local Shake Shack, which gets them out of the house and into a neutral location where they can get to know each other. "There are other people and it's not just me staring at them and talking to them," she reasoned. "We can eat and casually talk under twinkle lights on the patio, and it helps them relax and open up."
"We talk about school, their best friends, favorite shows, and TikTok dances," Burcham continued. "And, if they bring it up, we talk about foster care and their journey. These are kids first and foremost, they have lives and personalities, likes and dislikes, and I have a box of conversation cards that we can use to talk about [prompts like], [what] if we had superpowers or what our dream job would be. If they want to talk about their case or foster care, we do, but I never bring it up first."
Burcham also makes sure to ask her foster kids if they have a load of laundry they'd like her to wash since she's found that most arrive with dirty clothes. Gifting a duffel bag to the teens who come into her care is another thing she does after noticing many arriving with their personal belongings stuffed into garbage bags. "These kids aren't trash," she said. "Their clothes and sentimental items aren't trash. But we tell them to put them in trash bags when they move foster homes. That's just unacceptable to me. So, if a kid comes with trash bags, they leave with a nice big duffel bag that gives them the dignity they deserve."
"The kid is just as nervous as you. And you're going to do something weird or wrong, but in the end, if you lead with love, the kid will feel that," Burcham said. "The first step to becoming a foster parent is to contact your local child services office and attend an info session," she suggested for those interested. "If you aren't quite ready to be a foster parent, you can still get involved. Become a Court Appointed Special Advocate or mentor through Big Brothers/Big Sisters. If you're a photographer, you can take photos for your state's Heart Gallery, or financially support organizations like Comfort Cases, who is doing great work by eliminating trash bags for kids in foster care, and support your local foster families."
"These kids are wards of the state, so they are all our kids," she added. "We owe them love, care, and safety."