(ABC4) – According to Utah Foster Care, there are about 2,500 children in foster care in the state at any given time but only 1,200 licensed foster families.
Utah Foster Care is looking for families of all races and cultures, specifically Latino or Native American families, to open their homes to fostering to meet the needs of diverse children.
“Children in foster care come from all racial and cultural backgrounds. There is a need for families of all races and cultures to come forward,” Utah Foster Care tells ABC4. “Children do better when placed with families who can help them maintain their cultural and racial identities.”
In Utah, one out of five children in foster care are Latino and Hispanic.
“Can you imagine being taken from your home, no matter what kind of home you came from, from everything that you’re familiar with and then be placed somewhere else? Being able to have something that is so much a part of you: your language, your food, all those things to have that piece of comfort to help you to assimilate, to feel at least a little bit more secure. I think is so important,” Suzi Ramos, a foster parent, says. “These children lose so much when they’re brought into care.”
Ramos’ husband is from El Salvador, and she is from the United States. The couple has one biological child, two adopted children, and one foster child who they will officially adopt on May 3. They have opened their home to 14 children in foster care over the last 13 to 14 years, she says.
According to Ramos, her husband’s native language is Spanish, which the couple speaks at home. This has been useful in their time as foster parents.
“When we moved to Utah and started to look into foster care, what grabbed my attention was the need for Spanish-speaking foster parents. There is a high number in the Salt Lake Valley of Hispanic and Latino Spanish-speaking children in care, and there were only at the time in 2004, about 20 families to service over 200 children in care,” she says.
BELOW: Suzi Ramos with her husband and four children
During that time, Ramos says she and her husband were looking to grow their family. “I thought, this is something we should do,” she says.
Since then, the couple has tried to have Spanish-speaking children in their home, and those who don’t speak the language have left their home speaking it.
The couple’s adopted children are partially Native American, and they have tried their best to learn about the culture and make sure it is a part of their children’s lives.
“Through that experience, we started learning more about the Navajo culture, got involved in some drumming and dance a group called Little Feathers, which was part of Granite School District, and just kind of got involved with learning about that part of our children’s culture,” Ramos explains. “That’s really been a blessing and has helped us to grow as a family.”
And she says accepting a child’s culture, even if you don’t share it, is so important.
“Our culture is so much a part of who we are, and when we’re loving the whole child, that’s part of it. I think our children need to see that we love the whole child. They come with difficulties, they’re going to come with things that are going to make it hard sometimes for them to give love and feel love, so to be able to recognize what makes them special and unique like their culture.”
She says that recognizing and honoring a child’s culture honors the child.
Ramos explains there are so many amazing and loving foster families, but placing a child in a home that matches their cultural background is ideal.
“… but to be able to offer language, food, some music that they’re familiar with, something that brings a little bit of home into their new situation is invaluable,” she states. “I think it helps these children to feel more taken care of and secure in a time that’s so unfamiliar.”
Her advice for diverse families who may be considering opening their home to foster children?
“Just do it. Too often we worry or think too hard about what might be or what could be. And we don’t really know until we get in and experience it. Just get started,” she says.
A step outside of cultural norms
Ramos says this may be a step outside of the cultural norm for some cultures.
She adds that in the Latino and Native American cultures, “family takes care of family, so the idea of foster care is a little bit different. But if we recognize that everyone around us is family and that by sharing our culture and our language or the culture and language of the children we bring in, they become that family.”
Diverse families are so needed, Ramos says.
“We need these families. We need the strength that they bring. We need the cultural ties that they bring to support these amazing kids, these kids go through so much… be strong, know that it’s going to be hard, but be willing to step out, and know that you will be supported,” she states.
She says that training that families receive before taking in foster children can be somewhat intimidating.
“People get a little scared because it shares the worst-case scenario and tries to prepare you for the hardest things so that when you become a foster parent, you think, ‘oh its not as hard as you thought.'”
She says in entertainment, foster parents are often portrayed as being horrible and foster children are portrayed as being difficult.
“There are so many kids out there that are just your everyday kids that just need that extra support,” she shares.
Diverse foster parents make process smoother
Esmeralda Malili is the Utah Foster Care Diversity Specialist.
“I think we’re looking for families who are diverse just because we have so many children in foster care who are diverse, and so we are looking for families who can reflect the children we have in care, specifically Latino families who know the culture and hopefully may even speak the language…” she says.
Malili says this is especially helpful when foster families who speak Spanish can communicate with the children’s biological families and let them know how the children are doing. She says this makes the entire process run smoother because children can see “that the foster family and parents are talking. They see there’s no animosity. Everybody is working towards the same goal. Relationships can continue to grow once children return home.”
In some cases, the foster family can continue to be part of the child’s life if they have a positive relationship with the child’s parents.
“The main goal of foster care is getting children reunified with their biological families,” Malili says, so preserving the language the child spoke at home, is important.
“… it makes it a lot easier for the parents to then be able to still communicate with their children as they’re working through the reunification process,” she explains.
Types of families Utah Foster Care needs
Specifically, Malili tells ABC4 that Utah Foster Care is in need of Latino and Native American foster families and families willing and able to accept sibling groups and teenagers ages 12 and older.
“We’re looking for Native families for Native children, which is one of our big goals to continue to advocate for the preservation of Native families as much as we can,” she says.
Additionally, many children some in sibling groups of three or more across the state, so if families are willing and able to take sibling groups, “that would be amazing,” she says.
Her advice to those from diverse communities considering becoming foster parents?
“Just come and ask. I want to tell them that you’re needed and you’re wanted just because children in care are just like you, and they want families that look like them to where they can feel comfortable and know that their culture and their heritage is going to be respected and nurtured. So our children need diverse families. If they can see a family like them, it might make the process a little bit easier for them.”
Malili says every family is needed.
“We do, we need every single family, and every family is so unique and so are the children… just contact us, find out what the process is, and find out if its a good fit for them.”
She says there is support in the form of training, support, and mentors for parents who do decide to take the leap. A common fear that people have, she says, is that they are going to become attached to a child and then have to let them go.
“We hope that you do get attached because our children need somebody who’s going to love and care for them and feel that bond and connection with them. It may be hard, but at the end of it, to see a child that may come from a hard situation but knowing that you, through the process of helping that child and family, get to see a family grow and progress and get back together- that’s an amazing thing to see.”
Malili says it never hurts to call and learn more about the process for those who might be interested.
“It never hurts to just call and ask to see if this might be something for your family just because we’re always looking for families. You don’t have to be a specific way or in any shape or form try to fit into a certain norm. We’re accepting all families, and all families have a unique ability to be able to help out a child.”