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Cultural/Racial Issues
When a child is placed in a new home, the environment can feel very different than the one in which they were raised. This can lead to confusion and even distress. To help ease the transition and support the healthy development of the child's positive racial and cultural identity, it's important that you're willing to integrate the child's culture into your family's routine and encourage the child to maintain his or her cultural identity.
Culture: The thoughts, ideas, behavior patterns, customs, values, skills, language, arts, and faith or religion of a particular people at a given point in time.
Cultural Competence: The ability of individuals and systems to respond respectfully and effectively to people of all cultures, classes, races, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, and faiths or religions-in a manner that recognizes, affirms, and values the worth of individuals, families, tribes, and communities, and protects and preserves the dignity of each. 
Why is Gaining Cultural Competence Important?
  • Ethnic and cultural background influences an individual’s attitudes, beliefs, values and behaviors.
  • To understand a child, a person should understand cultural differences and the impact they have on family dynamics.
Where to Start
Think about and explore ways to continually recognize, learn about, and appreciate the youth in your home.  Even if a foster home may seem similar to the cultural or ethnic background of a child’s family, it is going to be an adjustment from the youth’s way of living. Youth in foster care will need some time to adjust to their new and different environment.
Here are some questions to help you think about how culture impacts your life and youth in foster care:
  • How do you define yourself? What is your ethnic or cultural background?
  • What is the culture inside and outside of your home?
  • How do you and your family celebrate who you are (culture, ethnicity, national origin, religion)?
  • Do you value and embrace people who are different than you?
  • How would you go about learning more about a youth’s culture or traditions?
  • How would you feel if someone didn’t acknowledge who you are?
Multicultural awareness consists of accepting an individual’s cultural values, traditions, beliefs, customs, rules of behavior, food preferences, language rituals, art, technology, styles of dress, religious beliefs, spirituality, sexual orientation, and political and economic systems.
Everyone deserves to have their cultural heritage honored, celebrated, and cherished. As a foster or adoptive parent you have an obligation to acknowledge, encourage, and promote the identities of the children who are in your care.
Tips on How to Become More Culturally Competent
  • Learn about your culture and values, focusing on how they inform your attitudes, behavior and verbal and nonverbal communication.
  • Don’t place “good” and “right” values in your own culture exclusively; acknowledge that the beliefs and practices of other cultures are just as valid.
  • Question your cultural assumptions: Check their reality, rather than immediately acting on them.
  • Accept cultures different from your own and understand that those differences can be learned.
  • Continue to read and learn about other cultures.  Do your homework:  Know something about another culture group prior to approaching them.
    • Follow appropriate protocol: Know and demonstrate respectful behavior based on the values of the group.
    • Use collaborative networks – church (spiritual), community, or other natural support groups of that culture.
    • Practice respect.
  • Practice the communication loop; don’t rely on your perceptions of what is being said.
  • Examine the circle in which you live and play (this reflects your choice of peers).  Expand your circle to experience other cultures, values and beliefs.
  • Understand that any change or new learning experience can be challenging, unsettling, and tiresome; give yourself a break and allow for mistakes.
Adapted from materials developed by CASA for Children, Inc. Portland, Oregon
Help Youth Preserve Their Race and Ethnic Identity
A young person’s identity is directly linked to his or her cultural and ethnic heritage. One of the ways in which you can support a youth learning about and embracing his or her cultural identity is by celebrating and educating yourself about holidays, traditions, religious or spiritual beliefs, and customs of other traditions. You and your family can also attend community-sponsored cultural events, such as ethnic fairs, art and music festivals, tribal pow wows, and other cultural celebrations and events.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, andQuestioning (LGBTQ) Youth
One of the more complex topics regarding diversity surrounds sexuality and sexual orientation. For teens dealing with same-sex attractions or facing questions about gender identity, the topic of sexual development can become more complex and emotionally charged.
It is important for you as a foster or adoptive parent to talk openly with your licensing agency about how your views and beliefs could affect youth who may be placed in your home. This is particularly important because if you foster teens, you will eventually care for a teen who questions his or her sexual orientation or gender identity.
Religion & Spirituality
Diversity also includes respecting and valuing the child’s and his or her family’s spiritual and religious beliefs.
Here are some important points to remember:
  • The child’s parents have the right to express which religion, spirituality, or related activities in which they prefer their child to participate.
  • The child can choose the religious or spiritual activities in which he or she wants to participate.
  • Your case manager can help negotiate any challenges related to differing spiritual and religious practice among your family, the child, and his or her family, if there are any.
  • Your religion may be an important part of your family life and you can invite a child to participate, but you should never impose your beliefs or religious practices on the child you foster.
  • Your respect for the religious beliefs of the child and his or her family demonstrates acceptance and tolerance of who they are.
Hair & Skin Care Considerations
Appearance is important to all of us, including foster children. If you are a foster parent who is caring for children of a different ethnicity, hair and skin care practices may be quite different from your own. Using hair care products that are inappropriate or washing a child’s hair daily could damage his or her hair; cutting another child’s hair may be insulting to that child or family. Consulting with a child’s immediate and extended family members for advice regarding hair and skin care techniques is the best way to gain specific knowledge about caring for a child’s hair and skin. Not only does this give you good information regarding the child placed in your home, but it is an easy way to build a relationship with the child’s family. If you are unable to get information from family members, you will need to research hairstylists and salons in your area that have the necessary experience and expertise in cutting and styling hair.
Additional Resources
Child Welfare Information Gateway: Transracial and Transcultural Adoption
North American Council on Adoptable Children: Transracial/Transcultural Parenting
Wisconsin Child Care Improvement Project: Cultural Sensitivity When Caring for Infants and Toddlers
Pennsylvania Child Welfare Training Program: Hair and Skin Care for African American and Biracial Children
Lambda Legal: LGBTQ Youth Resources