Erin from No Bohns About It wrote a wonderful post Why in the World does the Race or Ethnicity of a Foster Child Matter?. In the post, she discusses some of the reasons why foster parents may ask about a child’s race or ethnicity when the social worker calls up with a potential placement. Erin gives some really great reasons. Here’s a few more that I’d add on.
Curiosity. When someone calls you up asking you if want to welcome a child into your home, you want to know everything about that child. What the child looks like and their ethnic or cultural heritage is part of their identity. It’s a little glimpse into the life of a stranger who’s about to move in with you. It’s completely natural to want to have a mental picture of who will show up on your doorstep.
To Help Uncover Other Questions to Ask. We live in a very diverse area of the United States and sometimes race or ethnicity might prompt me to ask other questions. I might ask if the family are American citizens, because if not and the parent is convicted of a crime, they may face deportation. Fear of deportation can complicate a foster care case (willingness of relatives to step forward if parents’ rights are terminated, child moving internationally where you have no hope of maintaining ties, additional court dates, etc.). If a social worker stated a child’s ethnicity as Egyptian or Indonesian, I might ask if the child is Muslim, which would require a restricted diet, a certain manner of dressing, prayers several times a day, etc. Knowing ethnicity may remind me to ask if the child speaks English. I might ask if a child is a refugee if their heritage matches one of the large refugee populations in my area. Children who are refugees may have experienced hardships above and beyond the average – exposure to war, food shortages, violent discrimination. If a child was Native American, I’d ask about the child’s tribe and the likelihood that the tribe would allow a non-tribe member to adopt the child, if reunification wasn’t possible.
To Plan Ahead. If the social worker says the child is latino, you may feel pretty comfortable whipping up pupusas or carne asada, know where to buy Central and South American products, have a little Spanish under your belt, and look forward to hanging a piñata at your next party. If the social worker says the child is Ugandan, do you have any sense of what food the child may find comforting, the customs that might be normal in their home, the holidays they celebrate, etc.? No? Better get to the library or start googling. You’ll want to start planning how you will help the child maintain their cultural identity.
To Provide Feedback to the Social Worker. In our county, the social worker who does the placement is different from the social worker who did our home study who is different from the social worker who manages the child’s case. In other words, the placement person might not know too much about us or our neighborhood. Our neighborhood is predominantly white and latino with some Asians. If a black child came to live with us, the child would not have anyone nearby who looked like him/her except the one family with teenage daughters. A pre-schooler might not really care. But a teenager may appreciate being told and, if it’s a foreseen move (not an emergency placement), consulted about whether they feel up to going to school where no one looks like them.
To Plan Diversity in Your Family. In our case, our permanent family consists of three whites and one latino. We wanted to add a latino so the family would be more balanced, and no one would feel “not like the others.” There are many blended families who would be in a similar boat.
To Fit With Your Comfort Level. Maybe you wouldn’t feel comfortable raising a child who doesn’t look like you. That’s ok. Your honesty is appreciated. It’s better to say no in advance than have a weird vibe between you and your foster child. Here are a few examples where this could come into play. An unmarried friend had been raped by a white man, and was worried that she might be triggered by being around a white bio father who could be abusive, have a drug addiction, etc. Fellow foster parents had a relative who served in the Vietnam War and was openly racist against Asians; they wanted to avoid awkward family gatherings. Another first-time foster parent I know didn’t feel prepared to deal with other people’s racism and thought that for their first placement they would prefer to learn how to be a foster family first and then in later placements tackle transracial issues.
Bottom Line – Ask about What You Want to Know
In the end, you are the one making a huge commitment. You will be parenting a child for a few days or a few months or few years or forever. If you want to know – ask! The social worker might not have an answer, but you have the right to make an informed decision!