Toy drive to improve children’s facilities

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Catrina Hyde remembers seeing a mother reading to her daughter in a visitation room at Child Protective Services in Austin. When she looked closer, the scene held one glaring problem: The book the mother read from had several pages torn out and colored in. Earlier this month, Hyde, a social work senior, started a toy drive to replenish the toys in visitation rooms at CPS. She works at the agency as part of the Child Welfare Education Collaboration, a paid internship program at UT that prepares students for work with CPS after graduation. While the rooms are not in bad condition, the toys are used several times a day by various children and are not in good condition. These rooms are crucial to the agency because they’re the only place children in custody of the state can see their biological parents. “The visitation rooms are essential because they inspire the parents to work hard to be reunited with their children,” Hyde said. “It helps the children maintain that bond with their parents, which is so important at a young age.” Many parents have to undergo a type of counseling or treatment while their children are in custody to make them fit to be suitable caretakers again, Hyde said. Treatments can include anger management classes, drug treatment, family counseling or whatever else the parent may need. Hyde said she got the idea to start the toy drive from Mary Mulvaney, a clinical professor in the School of Social Work. Every student in the Child Welfare Education Collaboration program has to complete a macro project that would help an agency in some way and impact the client’s lives. To inspire her students, Mulvaney told them about a previous class that had started a toy drive and painted the rooms at a CPS facility in Austin. Mulvaney said the reason CPS does not get many donations is because people have a bad impression of the organization. “People think of Child Protective Services only as an organization who removes children from their homes,” Mulvaney said. “That’s one thing they do, but it’s not all they do.” Intrigued immediately, Hyde approached Mulvaney and told her about her idea to replenish the toys at CPS. With Mulvaney’s encouragement, Hyde immediately went to work setting up flyers, advertising in the School of Social Work and soliciting donations from students in her classes. As a state agency, CPS and its employees cannot ask for donations from the public. Hyde can ask for donations because she is an intern and not an employee of the state. Kim Miller of Partnerships for Children, an organization that provides CPS with new supplies for the children in custody, said an average of 20-25 people use the visitation rooms throughout the day. Hyde is working in conjunction with Partnerships for Children to get donations. Miller said Hyde was very enthusiastic and determined to get donations. “She came to me and asked me what we needed the most, and we said [toys] for the visitation rooms,” Miller said. Catrina Hyde remembers seeing a mother reading to her daughter in a visitation room at Child Protective Services in Austin. When she looked closer, the scene held one glaring problem: The book the mother read from had several pages torn out and colored in.Hyde has already received more than 80 donations in the form of books, stuffed animals and toys. “These toys are going to impact the lives of so many children and so many families,” Hyde said. “It’s so important that the families are treated with dignity and have a happy, enjoyable place to spend with their kids.”