From Summer 2012 Adoptalk
According to the 2012 AFCARS report, close to 84,000 Hispanic or Latino children were in care at the end of fiscal year 2011. About 22 percent (almost 23,000) of those children were waiting to be adopted. Of the 50,516 children who found adoptive families in 2011, 21 percent (10,757) were Latino. Since 2003, the number of Latino children in foster care waiting for adoptive families has risen by more than 40 percent. In response to these changing demographics, agencies should develop policies and practices specifically designed to locate and engage more Latino resource families.
Latino families are out there. The 2010 U.S. Census reported that the Latino population increased by 15.2 million (43 percent) between 2000 and 2010. An estimated 50.5 million people in the United States are of Latino heritage. In 17 states, Latinos make up more than 10 percent of the population.
Recruiting and Retaining Latino Families
Although Latino families may have roots in one or more of 21 different countries, they share many cultural priorities. Like people from other minority cultures, Latinos have a long history of taking in other people’s children and raising them as their own when the children’s birth parents cannot care for them. If a young girl has an unplanned pregnancy, some member of her family will usually raise the child if she cannot. Formal adoption is often not considered in such situations since it would mean legally cutting off a piece of the family.
Some Latino families practice the custom of prestando (or loaning) children to relatives who have fertility challenges. Relatives may raise the child or keep the child for only a short time, but the child still maintains close ties to his or her parents and siblings. The custom signifies the cultural importance of parenting and how families share children instead of ending one relationship before starting another.
In general, Latinos highly value family, children, spirituality, respect, and personalismo, or personal connections. To accommodate these values, public and private agencies may need to create more flexibility in their practices. Personalismo requires workers to spend more time engaging with families to establish a firm foundation of trust and connection. Latino families may ask questions of workers that seem intrusive—“Are you married?” “Do you have children?”—but are really meant to help build a personal connection.
Agencies should also be open to having Latino families drop in unannounced. It may be that they want to check with the worker with whom they have previously connected. Workers should accommodate these visits, because the extra time they invest in Latino families will pay off in having more culturally appropriate families for children in their caseload.
When a Latino family approaches an adoption agency after infertility, workers also need to be sensitive to the couple’s spiritual sense of why they could not conceive a child. Increasingly, Latino families understand infertility as a sign they should adopt, but some may still believe that infertility is a punishment from God, or just the cross they must bear.
Ideally, of course, agencies that wish to recruit and retain Latino families for waiting children must have on staff bicultural and bilingual workers who can communicate with Spanish-speaking families in their native language and accurately read cultural signs. The more ways in which an agency can make Latino families feel at home—through extended hours, bilingual forms and web content, and accessible Latino staff—the better able it will be to meet the needs of Latino children in care.
The Value of Latino Adoptive Families
The story below illustrates how elements of Latino culture have helped one family to look out for their adopted children’s best interests. Meet Félix Correa-Romero and Rosana Alvarez-Blasco, a Latino couple who live in Puerto Rico.
Félix and Rosana adopted their first child, a son, after 12 years of marriage and infertility problems. Only seven months old at placement, Félix Javier was a healthy and happy baby who fit right into his new family. Friends and family members said that the baby must have been God sent because he looked so much like his father.
A few years later, the family applied to adopt again. This time, the agency offered them two sisters who had been through three foster placements after they were removed from their family of origin. The second adoption was finalized when Anabelle was seven and Estefanía was two.
The addition of two children created a few challenges for the family. Though he had wanted a brother or sister to play with, Félix Javier was jealous of the attention his new siblings received. For their part, the girls badly needed their new parents’ unconditional love.
“Anabelle said to us,” Rosana reports, “that she could not trust any adult. We validated her feelings, telling her that we would help her feel that she could have trust in us, and that we would prove it to her as long as she needed.”
Both girls suffered from attachment issues, and it was hard to gain their trust. The family’s deep faith and unwavering sense of mission, however, enabled them to stay strong. Now 15, Anabelle is a very different person than when she joined the family. She now tells everyone that she is adopted and how her life suddenly changed.
As Rosana says, “Every day turns into an opportunity to make each of our children better people.”
Félix and Rosana believe that Latinos take care of each other wherever they are. It feels natural to them to have children at home, even though they are not biologically related. “Since our grandparents,” they explain, “there have been hijos de crianza or foster children who were not legally adopted but emotionally adopted. Our cultural roots make us believe that if we were raised with strong emotional family ties, we will be good parents to every kid who needs our care.”
Due to their focus on family, Félix and Rosana have helped their children make connections with their birth families too. In 2008, the girls reconnected with an older brother who was still in foster care, and Félix Javier got to know his older sister and brother. The connections helped the children to know more about their personal histories and enhanced their relationship with their adoptive family.
These birth siblings are now a part of the children’s extended family. Every holiday involves large family gatherings and lots of food. The children are used to having family and close friends around them to celebrate occasions like graduations, birthdays, weddings, and Christmas—when there has to be the traditional Puerto Rican pernil or lechón (split or roasted pork), pasteles (plaintain or yucca tamales), and arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas).
Since Anabelle is 15, she will have a quinceañera party this year too. A common Latino tradition, the quinceañera is a celebration of a father presenting to society a girl who is becoming a young woman. During the celebration, the father changes his daughter’s shoes from flats to high heels to signify his acceptance that his daughter is no longer a girl and has matured into a beautiful young lady.
As Félix explains, in Latino culture, “the father’s role in a girl’s life is of great importance.” There is the symbolic quinceañera party and later, before a woman can marry, her fiancé should ask her father for her hand in marriage.
For Latino children who are removed from their birth families, a common language and the observance of Latino cultural traditions can reduce the trauma inherent in out-of-home placements. Having to lose one’s family, and then one’s language and culture, in a country with a substantial Latino population is far more unsettling—and unnecessary.
Agencies that respect diversity—racial, ethnic, familial, cultural, etc.—will be the most successful at locating resource families who reflect the population of children in foster care. But significant diversity exists among ethnic groups, particularly within15 the Latino population. As suggested above, Latinos come from more than 20 different countries, each of which has its own unique history and cultural traditions. In addition, Latinos can be of any race, and many consider themselves multiracial.
Language diversity exists too. Latinos speak different dialects of Spanish, and language skills vary. One household might have a grandparent who speaks only Spanish, one parent who has limited English proficiency, another who speaks passable English, and children who are fully bilingual. Second and third generation Latinos may not even speak Spanish, but that does not mean they have fully assimilated into American culture. Workers need to assess families’ level of cultural integration and customize interactions to avoid cultural misunderstandings.
Families who primarily speak Spanish are also valuable resources for children. Such families have persevered in spite of language barriers and developed support networks that will help them navigate the system on behalf of children in their care. Agencies should never worry that the lack of English proficiency will adversely affect families’ ability to provide their children with excellent care.
The State of Latino Families in New York 2011 report by The Committee for Hispanic Children and Families, Inc., explains, “The diversity among Latino communities needs to be considered when designing and implementing effective programs.” Layla Suleiman Gonzalez, co-author of the 2011 report, also commented in the Winter 2004 issue of The Future of Children: Children, Families, and Foster Care that, “The great diversity in ethnic groups suggests that a one-size-fits-all Latino social service model is insufficient to address the needs across all Latino communities.” True cultural competence extends beyond speaking Spanish to a more intimate understanding of Latino family systems and traditions.
Put more simply, agencies that accommodate a range of Latino needs are far more likely to attract and retain Latino foster and adoptive parents. Agencies need to be creative in hiring qualified bilingual and bicultural staff, even if it means hiring from states that have a higher number of Latino M.S.W. graduates.
Many Latino families are willing and well-qualified to foster and adopt Latino children from care, and they are a valuable resource. Child welfare organizations, while fighting to protect children’s best interests, must make certain that all ethnic communities, including Latinos, have ample opportunities to safeguard and actively participate in preserving their children’s ongoing well being.