Mentoring a Black Child
Do you have two days a month to mentor a child?
By Joy Childs
Sentinel Contributing Writer
Maybe you missed, it but on April 28, 2010, President Obama signed a proclamation declaring May to be National Foster Care Month, stating: “Nearly a half-million children and youth are in foster care in America, all entering the system through no fault of their own.” He called upon Americans to “observe this month with appropriate programs and activities to honor and support young people in foster care, and to recognize the committed adults who work on their behalf each day.” There are many programs that honor and support young people, including African American children, in foster care. But first, some statistics and definitions.
As of 2006, 78,278 children were in the foster care system in California. Most children are placed temporarily in foster care due to parental abuse or neglect. Fifty percent of these children were male and 50%, female. Blacks comprised 28%, while Latinos were 42%. The average length of stay for children in foster care in 2003 was 39 months. Sixty-two percent of the young people leaving the system in 2003 were reunited with their birth parents or primary caregivers. By comparison, children with state agency involvement adopted in 2003, 51% were adopted by their non-relative foster parents and 45% were adopted by relatives.
What’s the difference between foster care and adoption? As explained on the adoption.com website, the basic difference is permanence. In an adoption, your child will now have your lifetime commitment as a parent. Many foster families maintain lifetime relationships with children who have been in their care, but this is not permanently binding. Adoption is permanent. You and your child will now share family outcomes, whatever they may be.
Another major difference is in parenting responsibility for your child. In an adoption, once the post-placement visits cease, you will not share parenting authority with an agency. Decisions about schools, medical care and your child’s many other daily activities will be yours alone.
You will also bear financial responsibility for your child. Your family insurance can be expanded to include your child, and if the adoption falls within the scope of “special needs,” you will be responsible for applying for subsidies available in your state. Adoption tax credits may also be available.
The legal responsibility of permanence means that your adopted child will inherit from you on the same basis as any biological children you may have, and you will be liable for her/his actions in any legal dispute until s/he reaches majority. In accordance with many state laws, your child will now carry your surname and will assume all the rights and responsibilities of every other family member.
Now it’s not unusual for foster parents to become interested in adopting a child who has been placed with them after they have come to know and bond with the child. Many families become foster parents with the sole intent of providing a safe and loving interim environment for one or more children who will either return to their biological families or be placed elsewhere for adoption. But no one can predict how the heart will react, and the foster family may, indeed, choose to pursue adoption if that is possible legally.
There are a number of programs doing as President Obama proclaimed: honoring and supporting young people in foster care. One such program is Kidsave’s Weekend Miracles program which, on the one hand typifies those programs aimed at assisting foster care youth waiting to be adopted but on the other uniquely focuses on those children who are nine years or older who, with each passing year, are less likely to be adopted and more likely to “age out” of the foster care system without the support of a caring, responsible adult. Studies have shown that older youth are more likely to be adopted by people who know them. Yet, adults often don’t have opportunities to meet these wonderful children who are longing for a permanent family.
At its May magical event last weekend, I met and spoke with a few of the foster kids who long to be adopted and their hosts (all names have been changed for privacy reasons). I began with Sarah, the DCFS Recruitment Administrator, who explained that kids this age come with a lot of baggage and so what she tries to do is help the adults “wade in”[to the foster care process] rather than jump right in.” For example, sometimes adults “think like they want a younger kid even though a younger kid doesn’t really fit their lifestyle that well . . . and they feel a connection they don’t want to sever . . . Sometimes this leads to an adoption.”
Curtis, a single African American male, who’s been a teacher in Chicago and now in Los Angeles for the last 10 years, knew that he eventually wanted to adopt- not a baby but an older child. He thought the program was great because “it allowed you to spend time with the kid first so that you could get to know each other.” He said that the program has allowed him to develop his parenting skills and, more significantly, get another young black male off the streets. Curtis is hosting Victor, an 11-year-old sixth grader, who says of him, appreciatively, “He takes care of me. He takes me places like to a pool party and Magic Mountain.”
The kids and their hosts come in all colors. There’s Jennifer, who’s a single younger white female, and Tatiana, who’s 16 and black. The two met three years ago through Kidsave and hooked up when they found they liked each other and that they had a common interest: fashion. For the first year, they saw each other a couple of times a month but their relationship has grown to the point that Jennifer now has Tatiana’s educational rights (i.e., she’s her parent and guardian for educational purposes, staying on top of her homework and grades). The two even went to Jennifer’s hometown of Portland last Christmas where Tatiana met Jennifer’s family and went inter-tubing on Mt. Hood.
When asked what the experience of having Jennifer as a mentor means to her, Tatiana admits that she was “misbehaving” before they met but because Jennifer is a young(er) adult, “She has fun with her . . .,” adding that Jennifer has introduced her to different cultures. Before that, she had been around only black people. Now, however, Jennifer finds that Tatiana “is very culturally sensitive. She doesn’t see things in black and white. . . It doesn’t matter to her that I’m white. . . ”
Adds Tatiana, “I like everybody the same. We’re just different shades. We’re all the same. . . . When you talk to the (Kidsave) kids, you hear different stories but they’re similar.”
In addition to the single adults working with foster children, there are married couples. Sandra (who’s Jewish) and Stanley (who’s Jamaican) have been working with David for the last three years. David, who’s 19 and about to graduate from high school, is about to “age out” of the foster care system. For the couple, who’ve thoroughly nurtured and supported David with activities ranging from David-Stanley basketball matches to Sandra-arranged dining outings, that means that David has to “stand up and be a man, choose the right path, and have friends and associates that are good for him.”
David is not bothered by any controversy surrounding whites adopte black children: “I’m mixed anyway. I’m happy. It doesn’t matter to me.” But to his white host mother, it does matter. She explained: “I know his preference might have been a black couple (to which David chimed in: “I do discriminate.” ) Sandra continued: He’s very tied to his black community. If he’s going to talk to a girl, it’s never gonna be a white girl. His heart is in the black community . . . and that’s why I try to get more African Americans involved. I think the (Kidsave) children would feel better if they saw more blacks at these events. . . I mean, “The Blind Side” was a great movie, but I’d like to see more black couples come into the program. Kidsave is only two days a month. It doesn’t mean you have to adopt; Washington Prep High School principal, Dr. Todd Ullah Just advocate for finding a home.”
So the question is, Do you have just two days to mentor a black foster child?