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Cultural Considerations in Foster Care

Take this quiz (and answer truthfully).
1. What is the race or ethnicity of the people in your family?
2. What is the texture of the hair of the people in your home?
3. What is the race or ethnicity of the people represented in the books, artwork, music that you have in your home?
4. What race or ethnicity is represented in the toys that you have in your home?
5. What is the race or ethnicity of the people who visit your home most often?
6. What is the race or ethnicity of the people whose home you visit most often?
7. Will there be a difference if you answered the same question of the child you are willing to foster in your home?
If the answer to question #7 is yes, fear not, you are not a “bad match” waiting to happen. There are just some considerations that must be taken into account.
Merriam-Webster defines culture as “the beliefs, customs, arts, etc. of a particular society, group, place, or time; a way of thinking behaving, or working that exists in a place or organization.” You may never be able to help a child with some aspects of his or her culture as families have their own culture and removing a child from their family-of-origin removed them from part, if not all, of their cultural background. Although you may not want to replicate family behaviors, beliefs, or traditions, do not be opposed to keeping some of a child’s culture connections, if at all possible. This sense of connection is important, especially with older children because they have had more involvement with those connections and most likely will have some sense of identity formed around those connections.
The foster home must create an atmosphere in which each individual is accepted and encouraged to love themselves. When one loses a connection they also lose part of the support that reinforced who they were becoming. From entry day until they day the child leaves, it is imperative that foster parents help to build a child’s self-esteem. This is more than just using the words, “cute”, “pretty”, or “handsome”. Help them find goodness and acceptance in their own attributes and on their own terms. Provide opportunities for success, reframe failures into learning opportunities. It is also important to learn how to meet the child’s needs to boost self-confidence, which includes learning how to maintain your child’s hair, especially if the hair is of a different texture or style than your own. If there are gaps in your hair care knowledge, find a school, salon, barber shop, or knowledgeable friend to help maintain the hair and educate you. Remember, when you begin to care for a foster child, you cannot cut their hair for the first 30 days. Also, make sure you talk to the child’s worker prior to any cuts or treatments as the family may be part of a tribe, religion, or group in which hair has a specific place in that culture. Finally, make sure you are not cutting the child’s hair just because it is easier for you, you may end up damaging the child’s self-esteem even further.
Consider purchasing ethnic dolls and toys. Be intentional about learning food preferences and allowing the child to make some decisions about purchases. Provide opportunities for the child to cook or help you cook, if age appropriate. When choosing entertainment, ensure that movie options include people who look like the child in important roles.
Louisville has several events and groups as well including, WorldFest; Americana Community Center World Festival; Asia Institute Crane House; Arab Language and Culture Institute; Kentucky Center for African American Heritage; Hispanic/Latino Coalition of Louisville; a listing of more international organizations can be found at the GotoLouisville website. Jefferson County has many communities from which a child may enter your home. Each of those communities have community leaders who can provide information and possible options for maintaining connections. Remember that when caring for a child you must do more than just provide food, shelter, and clothing. Children are emotional beings and many emotions are tied to their culture and ethnic identities, do as much as you can to bridge the gap, and give continuity to those connections.