The foster care system, like most systems in our country, has a racism issue. Children of color are disproportionately represented in the foster care system, far beyond their proportion of the population.
This disproportionality has been caused by factors too numerous to be covered in this article but include elements of systemic racism such as:
- Significantly higher rates of poverty among communities of color.
- Increased likelihood that parents of color will have CPS called on them and have their children removed.
- Increased rates of incarceration among communities of color, leading to children not having parents at home.
As allies in the fight against racism, everyone involved in foster care must be committed to removing the policies and structures that contribute to these inequities and replacing them with an equal and equitable system.
This work is urgent, but it will also take time. While that work is happening, it’s also essential that more people of color become foster parents.
Why Do We Need More People Of Color As Foster Parents?
A foster child is a trauma survivor. No matter what.
When they enter the system and go to live with a foster parent, they’re being forcibly removed from their family and sent to live with a stranger. No amount of explanation or care can take away the pain they feel.
Now, imagine a foster child who is a person of color. They experience this same trauma, but also have an extra burden added. They are overwhelmingly placed with foster parents who are white, and therefore, do not share the same culture or experience. Trey Rabun from Amara explains: “We know that 70 to 80% of the foster parents in our state are white. And we know half of the kids in foster care are kids of color. And if you look at King County and Pierce County, those numbers are even more skewed because most of the people of color in the state live in the two most populous counties.”
We need to change this paradigm by licensing more parents of color so that children of color only have to work through one trauma: being removed from their family. The benefits of placing a child with a family who looks like them and has the same cultural background are many:
- Increased stability through familiar culture and traditions: A child experiencing trauma needs to be able to feel safe and secure in their new foster home. A family that has the same culture and traditions will immediately feel more like home because of simple things like the food they eat, the movies they watch, and the music they listen to.
- A community in which they feel like they belong: When a child is placed with a foster parent that looks like them, they are more likely to live in a community of people that share their cultural identity, making them feel like they fit in and are “normal,” rather than a kid that looks different from everyone they know.
- Better preparation for the difficult conversations: It’s a tragic thing in our society that children of color have to learn specific ways to behave, and not behave, in order to survive in our society. Foster parents of color are better equipped to have these conversations because they have learned the same things from their parents and have lived with the realities of systemic racism that people of color in American society experience every day.
For additional resources on transracial foster parenting, we recommend reading Karen Valby’s piece from Time called “The Realities of Raising a Kid of a Different Race”, picking up the book In Their Own Voices: Transracial Adoptees Tell Their Stories, or exploring the resource offered by Families of Color Seattle.
How To Recruit More People Of Color As Foster Parents
It’s clear that there are significant benefits to placing a child with foster parents who look like them and have the same cultural background. So, how do we increase the number of people of color who are foster parents? The answer isn’t simple, but here are three practical steps we think anyone involved in foster parenting must take:
Make sure people of color know they’re needed: Too often we talk about racial disparities in a background but do nothing about it. Proactive outreach needs to take place in black, Latinx, and tribal communities to make sure potential foster parents know their help is needed.
Remove inequity and bias from the licensing process: Although all potential foster parents go through the same licensing process, one foster care professional we interviewed for this piece said that it takes longer and is more difficult for people of color to get licensed. Whether the cause is the process or the biases of those running the licensing process, this must be corrected.
Be an ally for people of color entering the foster parenting process: If you are a white person considering becoming a foster parent, it’s important that you serve as an ally to people of color in the process with you. This means supporting people of color in this process on an individual basis, but advocating and rooting out any policies and processes that contribute to inequality.
As we said at the beginning of this article, systemic changes are needed to ensure that, in the future, children of color aren’t disproportionately represented in the foster care system. As we work towards that goal, we also need as many people of color as possible involved as foster parents.
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.