A college lecture inspired Ray and Connie Gallego to consider what most Latinos still haven’t completely opened up to: adoption.
“My wife and I were working diligently into our successful careers and decided to start a family. We continued trying for years and weren’t successful,” recalls Ray. “I told myself that I needed to act now and start researching adoption agencies.” The desire to raise a child outweighed all the odds against them. After one year into the adoption process, the Gallegos finally brought home their first child, Cristina. The Gallegos described it as “love at first sight.” A couple of years later, the family adopted a sibling pair, Ruby and Anthony.
The system is already short of foster parents. The amount of Latino foster parents is even smaller. There’s a crucial need and hope to raise awareness about the situation.
But like the Gallegos, more Latinos are gradually coming forward to adopt and foster children, as they get increasingly informed of the process and feel welcomed by agencies whose mission is to meet this need. The U.S. Children’s Bureau Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) reports that the percent of public agency adoptions by parents of Hispanic ethnicity has increased every year between 2002 and 2010 to 15.5 percent.
One of those agencies is the Latino Family Institute. It was the first Latino private adoption and foster care agency in California, and it was formally known as the Hispanic Family Institute. “As a Latina social worker, I strongly believe that an organization that reflects the community it serves decreases organizational and culturally-based barriers, and increases the recruitment and retention of prospective adoptive and foster parents,” says Maria Quintanilla, Executive Director of LFI. The Gallegos is one of hundreds of families LFI helped create.
A special report released as part of the AdoptUsKids: Answering the Call series reveals that “bicultural” social workers establish the bridge for Latino families in order to make the process less confusing and threatening. “To retain Latino families, agency staff must anticipate prospective parents’ needs. Address the organizational and culturally based barriers — in recruitment materials, orientation sessions, pre-service trainings, and throughout the approval process — and help to address Latino families’ concerns, and make the path to adoption welcoming,” explains Quintanilla.
Adoption is increasing as more and more women delay childbearing, as they are more fully integrated into the workforce. At times, this interferes with their own biological clock for motherhood. According to the 2010 Pew Research Center report, mothers of newborns in all races and ethnic groups are now older than their counterparts 20 years ago. The report also found more women with a college degree are delaying the option to have children until later in life.
Latinos have a long history of stepping in when close relatives are not able to raise their child. The AdoptUsKids report described this arrangement as an “informal open adoption.” When agencies make the effort to understand the culture, they are able to help Latinos appreciate the legal option of becoming foster parents. As a result, agencies have found more Latinos are now seeking to make families in formal ways, through adoption. In addition, newcomers who have established themselves in the Unites States try to abide by the system as they understand the rules of the new culture, says Victoria Cerda, Executive Director of the Child Advocacy Resource Association (CARAS).
Advocates for children hope more Latinos consider becoming foster parents or adopting, since recent statistics show an alarming trend. The number of Latino children entering foster care is larger than the number of qualified families who share their language and cultural identity. A factsheet produced by the Casey Latino Leadership Group shows the number of Latino children in the system more than doubled in the past two decades and is likely to continue rising.
The 2010 Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System report found that over 84,000 in the foster care system were Latino children – yet only 11,000 were adopted. This has led to ongoing campaigns to recruit more Latino families who are in the position to answer this call from children waiting to be taken in.
Deportation laws also contribute to the growth of Latino children in the foster care system. An investigation of ColorLines – News For Action in November 2011 reported that approximately 5,000 U.S citizen children are in foster care following the detention or deportation of their parents.
“It is estimated that 15,000 other children will be at risk of permanent separation from their families in the next four to five years,” says Cerda.
Child advocates say a familiar language and culture can greatly reduce childhood trauma experienced when children are removed from their birth homes. “Latinos value the importance of ‘taking care of our own’ and strongly believe they are taking care of their community by adopting,” says Quintanilla. “Latinos are a valuable resource.” There are countless benefits when an adopted foster child does not lose his or her cultural identity and is “proud to be Latino,” says Kendra Morris-Jacobson, Director of Oregon Programs for Northwest Resource Associates.
Latinos make up at least 10 percent of the population in 17 states, according to Census figures. A number of federal projects and state initiatives have placed particular attention on recruiting Latino foster and adoptive families. In Utah, The Utah Foster Care Foundation coordinates specific Latino recruitment campaigns at least once a year. In New Jersey, CARAS has an ongoing educational campaign on the need for Latino foster parents, and uses churches, schools and community-based organizations to successfully showcase the program. Additionally, AdoptUSKids has gone virtually bilingual on their website and in many of their services.
The Gallegos have a message for those Latino families who have been exploring the idea of fostering Latino children: “My advice to Latinos is to go out and test the waters of the foster/adoption world. Once you do you will be rewarded ten-fold with the beauty and admiration of these children,” urges the Gallegos. “These children didn’t choose this path. They were dealt a bad hand in life. The only thing these children are asking for is a chance to be loved by someone.”