When Rob Scheer was forced to enter foster care growing up in Virginia, he carried his few belongings with him in a trash bag. Years later, when Darnestown residents Rob and his husband, Reece, decided to welcome foster children into their home, he was astonished to see them arrive with their belongings in trash bags. After all this time, nothing had changed. The foster system did not afford children, whose lives were turned upside down and in complete upheaval, the simple human dignity of a bag to call their own. It was at that moment that Scheer knew that he had to do something about it.
Comfort Cases, the organization founded by Scheer in 2013, has already gone national with a presence in 32 states but calls Montgomery County home. The organization’s mission is simple: “At Comfort Cases, we believe that every child deserves to feel a sense of dignity. Every child deserves to pack their belongings in a special bag that they can call their own. It is our mission as a charity to provide a proper bag, filled with comfort and essential items, to these brave youths in foster care on their journey to find their forever home.”
Talking to Scheer, you immediately realize he is a force to be reckoned with and understand how he has managed to make Comfort Cases what it has become today. A self-proclaimed bull in a china shop, Scheer has been relentless in spreading the word about the statistics of the foster care system and the desperate need to give these children a sense of dignity. While Comfort Cases began as a way to teach children how to give back, Scheer said he is determined to be the voice for youth in foster care and an agent for change.
The statistics are overwhelming. There are 437,500 children in the foster care system in the U.S. Every year, 23,000 people age out of the system “without permanent connections to a stable family.” Only 50 percent of people who age out will be employed at the age of 24. Only 5 percent will graduate high school. “We need to give kids every opportunity we give our own children—education, wraparound services, and financially set up kids up for success.”
Scheer points out that we provide funding for foster parents, but nothing for the children; with financial support, kids in foster care can focus on becoming adults. He adds that we have to tell children that they have to make the right choices, but “we can help give kids the support to make the right choices.”
Scheer is quick to give credit to local legislators and agencies who have helped create change and forge partnerships. Rockville City Councilmember Sidney Katz and Maryland Delegate Al Carr have been instrumental in Comfort Cases’ success. Scheer also credits Lisa Merkin, administrator of Child Welfare Service for Montgomery County’s Department of Health and Human Services, for being a great partner. As a result, no trash bags are ever used when a child is removed from a home and placed into foster care. Comfort Cases will provide a bag to every child who needs one in our county.
In 2017, “Montgomery County Child Welfare Services investigated 2,467 cases of child abuse or neglect” with 406 children in foster care. Scheer said that in recent months, he has seen an increase of kids entering the system because of abuse.
Additionally, there is no national database to track children in foster care. If a child in foster care lives in Prince George’s County and then moves to Montgomery County, there is no way to keep track of their records. These “boomerang” children fall through the cracks. Nationally, 4,600 children are missing in the system, making them susceptible to human trafficking.
Comfort Cases’ staff is 95 percent volunteer with no corporate sponsorships. When asked if he ever feels overwhelmed by the scope of the issues, Scheer said that he does. “Every day I ask, ‘What can I do? Did I make a difference? I start the morning with ‘I just have to take on today.’ If I can get one more person to listen, to donate. …”
Scheer is not one for excuses. “If you cannot adopt, foster. If you can’t foster, volunteer,” he said. For more information on how you can get involved, visit ComfortCases.org.
Author’s note: I am organizing a donation drive for youth ages 10 and older. We will be collecting small duffel bags or backpacks, sleepwear, stuffed animals, journals with pens or pencils, and books. O’Hair Salon, 424 Main St., will accept these donations for Comfort Cases Jan. 18-31.