No sooner had Christmas dinners been digested when stores were displaying yoga mats, water bottles and bulk packages of diet shakes in anticipation of weight loss resolutions. While improving your fitness in 2012 is a wonderful way to enhance your life, consider a more impactful resolution: helping a foster child reach their full potential.
At any given time there are over six-thousand children in foster care across Iowa, with just over twenty-five hundred foster homes for them to live in. The children have been removed from their biological parents due to neglect, abuse and mistreatment and need a secure place to heal, grow and thrive until they can safely return home. In the last few years, there has been a steady increase in the number of Latino children entering the foster care system, particularly in Polk County and there are few licensed Latino foster parents to welcome them to a temporary home within their culture.
While Latinos are roughly ten percent of the Des Moines population, they represent over fifteen percent of the children placed into foster care. These children tend to be younger than eight, which is the average age of children in Iowa’s child welfare system, and are predominantly Spanish-speaking and come from multigenerational households.
When a child is placed with a foster family, that child has already lost the most important aspects of his/her life: parents, home, familiar smells and foods, favorite toys, pets, and sometimes their siblings and other family members who lived with their family. In the case of Latino children, they often lose their ties to their community, language and traditions when placed in a home that is unfamiliar with their culture.
Imagine this: The date is December 24th of any given year and you are a four-year old Mexican-American boy who has not yet learned English. You have just been placed in a foster home where no one speaks your language and cannot comfort you, reassure you that you will be safe, tell you what to expect, or when you will see your parents again. You cannot tell them that milk and cheese make your tummy hurt, or that you can’t sleep without your stuffed frog that you fear is lost forever. Everyone smiles at you and speaks loudly and slowly in a language you are only vaguely familiar with. They offer you a plate roasted turkey, mashed potatoes and green bean casserole. You see the Christmas tree in the corner and wonder when the tamales and champurrado will be served. You feel terrified, confused, abandoned, sad and helpless.
Children need and have the right to grow up in an environment where they are able to value their culture, religious background and language. It is important to provide for the cultural needs of children with diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds because this helps them to grow up strong, knowing who they are, where they come from and how they fit into their community. Foster parents play a crucial role in promoting and maintaining a child’s cultural connections.
The most ideal way to keep foster children connected to their culture is to place them with foster families who share that culture. However, when there are no such homes available, foster parents of any ethnic background can - and many do, the following to keep a cultural link between the child and his/her heritage:
- Respect the child's culture in the home by admiring and talking about cultural role models, exploring folk art, music, stories, etc.
- Attend cultural celebrations and community events together.
- Increase your own awareness and understanding of diverse cultures.
- Provide a child with lots of support and positive reinforcement to enhance his/her positive view of themselves, their culture and identity.
- Be accepting of the child’s family, their background, lifestyle and culture, and encourage the child to discuss their family in a positive, yet realistic way.
- Help children discuss and appreciate differences in all people, and teach them strategies to deal with people who are not as accepting of differences.
- Ask the child to share about his/her culture and ask him/her how you can share in it with him.
- Help the child keep a ‘Life Book’, which is a special journal that contains information or photos about themselves and their family, where they are from and their participation in cultural events.
- Visit cultural centers together.
- Download recipes from his/her country of origin and buy the ingredients from local ethnic grocery stores to prepare the meal. Involve the child in this process.
- Download translation apps to your mobile phone, computer or tablet to help you communicate with the child.
- Read books together that highlights the child’s culture.
- Play ethnic music and watch age appropriate cultural films together.
- Identify famous people from the child’s culture and discuss them with the child.
For more information on becoming a foster parent in Iowa, call 1-800-243-0756 or visit www.iowakidsnet.com and make a resolution to make a lasting impact on the life of Iowa’s most vulnerable children.