Children in the foster care system have often gone through significant trauma and instability before they arrive in your home. Foster parents provide stabilization and comfort when a child has been uprooted from their family and everything that feels familiar.
Doing this can be even more difficult in a transracial context when a foster child’s culture is entirely different from that of the foster parents they’re placed with.
Imagine that you’re seven years old. You’ve just entered a stranger’s house and been told that you’ll be living with them. They don’t look like you, eat the same food as you, or listen to the same music. Everything feels … foreign.
This doesn’t sound like a stabilizing moment. Instead, it feels like a profound culture shock.
Before the child can begin to grow and thrive, it’s your job as a foster parent to bring stability that comes by showing them consistent love and support in a way that works for them and the culture that they have grown up with.
Challenges Foster Parents Face When Fostering A Child From Another Culture
Foster parenting is hard work even if the child you’re fostering has the same cultural background as you. If you’re welcoming a child into your home from a different culture, there’s a whole additional set of challenges to overcome.
Here are a few of the most prominent challenges to consider:
- Cultural Biases: We all have cultural biases. We’ve developed them as we go about living our lives in our specific context. They influence how we see the world and the way people act in it. The trouble with biases is that we don’t notice them; they’re automatically applied to every situation we walk into. It’s essential that as a foster parent, you take some time to explore what cultural biases you have and develop a plan to counteract them so that you can best care for your foster child.
- Lack of Knowledge: At the beginning of your journey with a new foster child, there’s going to be a steep learning curve for you to get up to speed about a child’s culture, the food they eat, the music they listen to, the things they do for fun, and so much more. Some of this learning can be accomplished via self-education and reading, but often the most effective approach will be talking to the child, if they are old enough, or with the child’s biological parent, if that is possible.
- Language Barriers: Challenges stemming from cultural differences are multiplied when you’re also contending with a language barrier. To have a child placed with you, you must have a working knowledge of their language, but that doesn’t mean that all communication will be straightforward. We recommend working with a child placement agency (CPA) to identify translation and support services as needed. Keep in mind that placing a child with a family that doesn’t speak the child’s language is a last resort and does not happen frequently.
How To Get Started
You know that supporting your foster child’s culture is important. You also know that there are challenges ahead.
You may be wondering, “What should I do next?” We’re glad you asked. Here are five ways you can more practically support your child as a transracial foster parent.
1) Talk to the Child’s Parents
A child’s parents will know the most about the things that make their child comfortable and loved. If possible take some time to talk to them, listen to what they have to say, and consider how to adjust your approach based on what you learned in the conversation.
2) Have an Honest Conversation
As we all know, parenting involves a steady dose of listening and humility. If your foster child is old enough, it might be a good idea to sit down and have an honest conversation about what’s different at your home from their culture. This conversation may yield some simple things that you can change that will help your child feel more comfortable and at home.
3) Research Traditions & Holidays
Take some time to do some research on the traditions and holidays of your foster child’s cultures. If you can in some way replicate the experience around each of these things that they had with their family or community, you will provide a source of comfort and familiarity to them in the unfamiliar world they are now living in.
4) Make Sure Your Foster Child Is Able to Spend Time with People Like Them
One of the best ways to provide stability to your foster child is to make sure they can spend time with people like them. This might mean researching school districts, after-school activities, and more that will allow them to interact with children and adults like them. This means, in a practical way, that you need to be comfortable with being in the minority for the sake of your foster child. For example, if you are fostering a Native American child, you might consider researching ceremonies and activities held by their tribe so that they can attend and participate in them.
5) Check Your Biases
As we talked about above, we all have cultural biases that impact how we look at the world.
As you go through your day, try to question those biases at each turn. Ask yourself: “How is my cultural background influencing how I’m approaching this situation?” Awareness is the first step to understanding.
6) Get Outside Help
Remember that you don’t have to be in this alone. The child placement agency likely either has resources in-house that can help you or knows of other qualified organizations that can help. Reach out to them early and often. They’re committed to help because they’re just as committed as you are to the growth of the foster child in your care.
Thinking about becoming a foster parent? Click here to access our FREE on-demand 8-part webinar course to learn more about the importance of foster parents, the process of getting licensed, and the everyday experience of caring for a foster child.