Written by Washington Foster Team
Foster parenting is an option for everyone — no matter what race, gender, or sexual orientation you are. Although foster care itself presents many challenges to everyone, it’s important to note the particular difficulties a non-native English speaker may have to overcome.
Language barriers are the most obvious obstacle for non-native English speakers who want to become foster parents in Washington State, but it’s not the only one. Bias and culture shock are also things to consider as you move through the licensing process and into placement.
There are ways to deal with these challenges and use them as opportunities to grow with your foster child and improve a system that is always in need of more diversity.
Navigating Preset Biases
Biases are everywhere, and foster care is no exception. Whether conscious or unconscious, non-native English speakers are likely to encounter bias at some level in the system. Overcoming these challenges can be overwhelming, uncomfortable, and disheartening, especially when they impact your ability to care for your foster child.
But learning how to deal with bias also presents an opportunity to help educate and inform others. By tackling these issues head on, you can improve your experience and help create a foster care system that’s more inviting to future non-native English speakers. Here are a few ways you can help eliminate bias.
1. Be Patient
Your foster youth may have preconceived notions about your culture. Take the opportunity to teach them about it while also respecting their own traditions and heritage. Don’t force them to change who they are, but give them time and space to understand where you come from and how that impacts your parenting style.
If and when the backlash comes, stop for a moment before reacting defensively, and ask yourself: “Where is this emotion coming from? Is it truly directed at me, or is there something deep down affecting how they view my background?”
2. Connect With A CPA
Child Placement Agencies (CPAs) typically have more support resources available to assist non-native speakers, including bilingual case managers, support groups, and multilingual therapeutic services.
Talk with case managers about any difficulty you may have during the licensing process due to language or other barriers. This feedback helps improve support for future families and may allow you to connect with invaluable resources.
Becoming a foster parent isn’t easy, but it should never be even more challenging simply because you don’t have the tools and resources you need to understand the process.
Dealing With Culture Shock
Culture shock happens when you find yourself in an environment where daily life is altered dramatically. This can happen to foster children as they enter a new family environment. It can also happen to foster parents, whose family dynamic is certain to shift in some ways when they welcome someone new into their home.
As a foster parent, it’s important to understand how you can protect yourself and your child from culture shock.
1. Attend Support Groups
Participating in support groups allows you to share your experiences with other foster parents who are often going through the same challenges as you. It’s also an excellent opportunity to get advice and learn best practices from experienced foster parents who have found ways to cope with culture shock.
2. Consider A Focused Program
Take time to seriously consider if there are any specific populations you are interested in, or able to help serve. There are various agencies that have traditional foster care programs in addition to focused programs such as, immigrant and refugee youth in care, infants exposed to drug use, medically fragile children, and LGBTQ children and youth.
3. Find Common Ground
Even people from very different backgrounds have many things in common. Look for ways to identify similarities between your family, your foster child, and other foster families.
Use those similarities to create a trusting relationship and build on it by sharing and learning about the things that make you different.
Overcoming Language Barriers
Foster parents must meet certain language requirements in order to receive placement of a child. Those requirements include functional literacy, like being able to read medication labels, and basic communication skills, so parents can communicate with the child, agency, health care providers, and other professionals. But, those minimum qualifications don’t offset all language barriers.
Overcoming language barriers through the licensing and placement process is a huge challenge for families who don’t speak English. In addition, accessing the ongoing support and other resources necessary to be successful as a foster parent can be more difficult for non-native speakers.
But it’s critically important to make that effort. When families from different backgrounds work to become foster parents, they provide comfortable and familiar homes for children from similar backgrounds.
For example, Washington State has many foster children from Spanish-speaking families. When placed with a family who shares their language, children are more likely to avoid culture shock and bias, so they can better thrive in their new environment.
Fortunately, non-native English speakers are not alone. They are supported by CPAs and other groups dedicated to providing them with the resources they need to become amazing foster parents. Groups like El Centro de la Raza and Friends of Youth are just a few among many examples of Spanish-speaking organizations that offer support services to foster families.
Want to learn about other resources available to help you through the licensing process? Download our free resource: The Essential Guide To Becoming A Foster Parent In Washington State