Supporting the Cultural Heritage & Identity of Foster Kids by Blake Griffin Edwards, MSMFT LMFT LCPAA

Preface:  As we help free children from abuse and sexual abuse sometimes they are placed in Foster Care.  This move can be short-term or long-term.  Regardless of the length of time, it is important that during this process each child maintains and learns about their cultural identity.  Every person that enters a child’s life during this process can be an integral part of helping that child remain connected to their heritage and to their traditions. JDP

 

Blake Edwards, LMFT LCPAA

Blake Griffin Edwards, MSMFT LMFT LCPAA

Supporting the Cultural Heritage & Identity of Foster Kids

There is a difficult balance to strike in assessing and planning for the formalized support in the preservation and development of a foster child’s cultural identity.

Beyond assessing a child’s racial/ethnic profile and foster parents’ racial/ethnic profile—which is the obvious and superficial stuff of “culture”, we as professionals also frequently sprinkle in treatment notes related to a child’s interests in activities, toys, games, music, movies, places, and more.

But where we miss the mark, I think it comes down to the following:

We must place a very high value on “individualization” and on “cultural heritage”:
Neither skin color nor hobbies and pop-culture interests get at either of these very well, as identifying racial/ethnic blood line just more-or-less lumps you together generically with other folks with the same basic skin color, and hobbies and pop-culture interests often say more about our society’s current fads (more present– and future-oriented) than it does about heritage (which is past-oriented) and is more about conformity than individualization. Don’t get me wrong—including information about the racial/ethnic affiliation as well as specific interests is necessary, but there has to be more than that

Getting at an individualized-to-the-child assessment of cultural heritage requires asking the child directly whether there were any “family traditions,” “holiday traditions,” “favorite family activities,” “regular family meals,” or other “special family memories” that get at where is this child from and of what sort of people, as this gets a bit more at “culture.” Our cultural identity is about far more than skin color and current interests.

So we must always ask these type of heritage/tradition-specific questions of children in care and incorporate what we learn into service planning with our teams and families. This sort of individualization paints a better picture and flows more naturally into the services (what we’re going to now plan to do for the kid) and goals (what we’re going to help the kid do for him/herself).

Remember that growth requires that roots grow deeper
We have to make sure that we don’t allow a child to forget the best of what they may have had. If we want to know what “the best” was, we have to ask the child. And our foster parents must be willingly and actively incorporating the best of the biological families’ traditions for the sake of honoring the roots of the child’s identity, rather than chopping them off.

Keep in mind that in the best of cases, foster children are eventually reunified with rehabilitated biological parents or else placed with extended biological family, and it is so critical that preserve—rather than fragment—the child’s sense of identity across that divide. We often want to press forward leaving the worst of their past behind them, but let’s take care not to leave behind their best.

Blake Griffin Edwards, MSMFT LMFT LCPAA
Clinical Director, Fostering at Metrocare, Dallas, Texas

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