The number of children entering the foster care system across the country has steadily increased from 396,430 in 2012 to 427,137 in 2015. Most races, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, were victims of this surge, including children of Hispanic or Latin origin.
As of 2015, there were 91,101 Hispanic children in care, up from 83,637 in 2014. In fact, Hispanic children made up 21% of the children in the foster care system across the U.S.
This influx, due in part the nation’s opioid epidemic, has put added stress on the foster care system, especially those foster parents who struggle with English and are not familiar with the system.
That’s why, now, more than ever, non-native English speaking foster parents are looking for support services to help them navigate a complicated system.
Most states have their own agencies to help Hispanic foster care families. In Washington, the nonprofit agency Friends of Youth specializes in helping Hispanic families become licensed. In California, the Latino Family Institute aims at preserving the integrity of Latin American cultures among adoptive families while promoting kinship adoptions.
In New Jersey, Foster and Adoptive Family Services (FAFS) has Family Advocates.
FAFS’ Family Advocates serve as a liaison between foster parents and the Division of Child Protection and Permanency (DCP&P). Given the complexity of the foster care system, Family Advocates work with foster, adoptive and kinship families to clarify any confusion as well as provide support and advocacy to make sure resource families are able to best provide for the children in their care.
Meet Jessica Hernandez, a bilingual FAFS Family Advocate.
What are some of the ways you help resource families? Can you provide a specific example story?
I interact with resource families at events that FAFS holds throughout the state such as our Holiday Parties or other recreational events held by our local Connecting Families groups. I’m also available via phone, email and/or for meetings such as Family Team Meetings (FTMs).
As a Family Advocate, I look to empower and educate resource families. I remember working with a Spanish-speaking inquirer who began the licensing process on May 2014. She reached out to me in January of 2015 because things were at a standstill.
I worked with her from January 2015 all the way until she got licensed in April 2016. The reason why it took so long for her to get licensed was due to a shortage of Spanish-speaking DCP&P workers in her area, so I advocated for her case to be transferred to another office.
Once she finally became licensed, she called to thank me for all of the help and guidance that I provided on her behalf during the licensing process, as she had been very discouraged and contemplated withdrawing on multiple occasions.
There was another instance where a Spanish-speaking resource parent, who transitioned over from a private agency, almost had her home closed due to not having a Spanish-speaking worker. I was able to rectify the situation with the caseworker and, in turn, the caseworker was able to stop the home from being closed.
Most times Spanish-speaking families feel that their English is good because they are able to relay pertinent information, such as their name, address and a phone number. However, I encourage these families to attend group engagements with a Spanish speaker and to ask for a Spanish-speaking worker to ensure that they fully understand what is expected of them. I also stress that it is important to receive information in their native language as foster care is a very sensitive topic. This way, they can avoid misunderstandings.
Have you seen an increase in calls from Spanish-speaking families during your time at FAFS?
There has definitely been an increase in Spanish-speaking families that call me here at FAFS. I have worked with DCP&P workers throughout the state to inform Spanish-speaking families that I am here as an additional support. Families I’ve helped spread the word to other parents as well, which also increases the calls I receive. In addition, I’ve helped answer questions about trainings and scholarship.
I had a chance to help a Spanish-speaking adoptive parent who called about her son’s NJFC Scholars application. She was extremely appreciative and grateful that I was able to talk to her in Spanish. She did not feel confident speaking in English and was afraid that she wouldn’t get the information she needed for her son’s post-secondary education.
Culturally speaking, what are some of the differences in providing care to Hispanic families?
When talking with Spanish-speaking families I instantly know that the call will be lengthy. When an individual is able to speak in their native language, they finally feel like they can express themselves fully. Like all families, Spanish-speaking families require a lot of patience and understanding. It is extremely important to really explain what is expected of them as resource parents as well as explain what foster care is truly about since there are often many misconceptions.
Navigating the foster care system isn’t easy for anyone. Are there added difficulties when trying to help Spanish speaking families work through this complex system?
Absolutely! It can be difficult to help families through the foster care system as is, so trying to help Spanish-speaking families navigate the system is even more difficult. The main reasons are the cultural aspect and the shortage of Spanish-speaking DCP&P workers available throughout the state.
Sometimes translating terminology can be overwhelming; therefore, I try to use more conversational Spanish with my bilingual families so they aren’t intimidated and can feel confident about the basics of the foster care system. I have found that knowing they have a bilingual Family Advocate that they can reach out to is a big help, as it alleviates the language barrier.
Again, knowing that they are not alone really goes a long way. The more they reach out, the more I build on the rapport, which leads to an even better trusting relationship. That is huge within the Spanish community.
If you are a non-native English speaking licensed resource parent in NJ, you can reach out to Jessica here.
If you reside outside of New Jersey, please contact your local foster care agency for help.