How to Keep Kids Connected to Their Culture | Getting Clear About Foster Care

Last updated: November 11, 2021, at 2:37 p.m. PT

Originally published: September 23, 2021, at 8:58 a.m. PT

How to Keep Kids Connected to Their Culture

Washington State has started making important changes to increase support for children and families who are at risk of entering foster care, yet there is still an immediate need for homes that reflect and affirm the cultures of youth currently in care. At the Y, we feel that it’s crucial for young people in foster care to see themselves and their culture reflected, whether by their caregivers directly or by the people and communities around them. From language, religion, food, social norms, music, clothes, beliefs and attitudes, traditions, and so much more, culture plays a large role in how we understand each other, and in the case of foster care, how we care for each other. 

Our foster care team recently asked some of our Y-licensed foster parents to share their experiences and insights on becoming a caregiver. Multiple parents responded candidly about their joys and challenges and advice for new foster parents, especially if they’ll be caring for a child from a different culture than their own. For their privacy, we have omitted last names. 

Y: What should new foster parents know about culture, and why is it important? 

“Foster parents of color are very important because they can have those difficult discussions on race. Because we've lived it and experienced it every day. We're comfortable having those discussions because it's our reality,” said Sidney, a Black foster parent licensed with the Y for over 3 years. 

“No matter how much you match up with a kid on paper, you’re not their family, you’re not their culture, and culture matters because everything has been taken away from them,” said Ashleigh & Quinn, white LGBTQ+ foster parents licensed with the Y for a year. “We do anything we can do so that they see themselves in people. We have visuals in the house, we have books, we try to inform ourselves, but culture is people and its transmission - it’s learning your culture from your people.”  

“If you live in a community that’s really homogenous and doesn’t reflect the child, just think about whether or not you can support that kids cultural needs, and if you can, how? Because you’re going to have to drive further, you’re going to have to go places to make that happen,” said Angie and Jen, a bi-racial LGBTQ+ couple licensed as foster parents with the Y for over 2 years.  

“It’s important that if you’re going to have a child that’s not your race in your home, you’re going to need to learn, and hook yourself up with people who can help you,” said Barbara, a Black foster parent licensed with the Y for over 32 years. 

Y: What are tangible actions you’ve taken to support a youth’s culture? 

Regardless of the foster parents’ identities, keeping kids connected to their culture is a key aspect of fostering that requires an ongoing commitment to learning, growing, and building community and connection. Foster Parents at the Y shared the following ideas and strategies around this key aspect of fostering.   

“Find out from the kid - what are some of the things that you’re used to? What is it that you and your family do together? That’s where you can talk to the birth family and get to know them too,” said Barbara. “Being very honest about what you don’t know. For example, saying to a child, I’ve never gone to a Pow Wow, can I go with you next time? Is there anything that I should have? Anything I should not do or should not say? And just be open, so that you’re learning what you need to do. Be curious and ask questions.” 

“There is a culture for these kids in foster care that is separate from their families, especially for teenagers,” said Ashleigh and Quinn. “Understanding that for teens in care, they may really value their friendships with other youth who are in foster care or have that shared lived experience. Ensure youth in your home see their identity reflected back to them by the people in their life. Ask yourself, what can we do to support the youth being with family? And try to open up ways for the youth to connect more with family as appropriate.” 

“We have friends who are Black. We have friends who are white foster parents with Black kids. We have friends who are Black foster parents with Black kids. And we made sure to spend time together so the kids saw people who looked like them, and saw families that look like ours,” said Angie and Jen. “We also were really intentional about where we took the kids. We did gymnastics with a Black teacher and we did Karate with a Black coach and we went to Black Santa at the African American Museum every year – everything that we could do knowing that we couldn’t fulfill that ourselves. It’s important for people to think about that and to be creative about how you’re going to keep kids connected.”  

“Creative Justice is a great program for kids who are multi-system involved,” said Ashleigh and Quinn. ”Kids get a mentor artist and engage in a creative process that uses art as healing. Kids are fed and they are also given cash to participate, which is important for the CSEC population [Commercially Sexually Exploited Children]. We need to give them safer ways to access cash - showing them we’re taking that need seriously - and showing them that an adult can give them stuff with no strings attached. That is a very powerful thing and can be very valuable.”  

Y: What are some resources you’ve found to learn from those with lived experience?  

Many of our foster families turn to books and social media and other mediums created by adult adoptees and adults who have lived experience in child welfare. Below are a few of their top recommendations. 

  • Ashleigh recommends several Instagram accounts to follow: @nowhitesaviors, @latinxparenting, @melanatedsocialwork, @_heytra, @angryfostermama, @endseclusionnow, @evolvingadoptee, @elliecoburn, @changingadoption, @iamadopted, @the_ex_adoptee, @angieadoptee, @parentingispolitical, @dopeblack_socialworker 
  • An article by Torie, a transracial adoptee: Love is Not Enough: What it Actually Takes to Raise Transracial Adoptees  
  • A podcast which interviews adoptees from all backgrounds: The Adoptee Next Door with Angela Tucker. The podcast attempts to shift societal perceptions about adoption by exploring how adoption often reveals something new about racism, religion, immigration, trauma, and the many layers of unconventional families. 
  • The book What White Parents Should Know about Transracial Adoption: An Adoptee's Perspective on Its History, Nuances, and Practices by Melissa Guida-Richards also makes a great resource. 

Foster parenting requires an ongoing commitment to developing cultural competency, including: unpacking your own biases, developing an awareness of your own culture and family norms, diversifying your community, ensuring you are creating an inclusive home, and continuing to educate yourself - which includes both learning and unlearning.  

Foster Parents Ashleigh & Quinn point out that it’s also important to look upstream and participate in anything that can keep kids from being removed from their homes and cultures in the first place, like participating in mutual aid work in your community or advocating to your legislators to bolster support for families. Whether you are currently fostering or interested in fostering in the future, there’s both big and small ways you can help keep kids connected to their culture and support family well-being. 

Becoming a foster family is not an easy decision but there are many easy steps and actions you can take to improve the health and welfare of kids and families experiencing foster care. Start by learning more about the issues or contact us about becoming a foster parent today. 

Special thanks: these interviews take a considerable amount of time and we are incredibly grateful to the Y Foster Parents for sharing their knowledge and learned experiences with us!