Over the past month we have been working with Bradley Lincoln from Mix-d: Project to understand the experiences faced by children and foster carers who have different ethnic backgrounds. When we think about caring for a child of a different ethnicity, what questions spring to mind? We know that children in care and their carers have positive and negative experiences of understanding each other’s cultural and ethnic perspectives.
What does different ethnicity mean? For all young people, it is important that they can discuss their heritage, their backgrounds and culture in language familiar to them and their peers. For young people in care, how do they remain in touch and identify with their cultural heritage?
Approximately 1 out of 5 children waiting for adoption are from ethnic minorities and, on average, they spend 3 times as long in care as white children who are waiting for adoption. The adopting family may have a different heritage as may the family who foster the child whilst they are waiting for adoption.
The identity of any child is important, even more so when a child is no longer living with their birth parents and living with a family who has a different identity to them.
Facing tricky questions or commentary from friends and peers
Whether unconscious bias or racist, when children face comments about their ethnicity it will be challenging unless maybe they are completely sure of themselves. This is unlikely as for most children, to know oneself is part of normal development and growth. Therefore, it falls to the foster carer to help a child appreciate and recognise their ethnicity and help them understand how it is part of who they are.
How can we help children understand their cultural heritage?
A child should be encouraged to explore their cultural heritage and as carers we should support and facilitate this journey. As part of life story work, children should be assisted to explore their cultural, religious and linguistic heritage. This will help to develop a positive sense of identity and belonging. A clearer view of their identity can also assist children to feel pride in who they are which helps them deal with any negativity they experience due to their heritage.
For this to be successful for any child of a different ethnicity, it has to be a priority and as such specific cultural events need to be sought out so that the child can observe and participate if desired. Contact with extended family or other people from their ethnic community will help a foster child empathise and ultimately develop a sense of pride and identity with their heritage.
Be colour brave not colour blind
The Mix-d: Project encourages the carer to consider and be confident in their own identity whilst creating a home environment that celebrates different cultures. The work of the Mix-d: Project suggests that discussion of similarities we share with the children in our care leads to open conversations celebrating and embracing differences.
This is just one of many aspects of what it is like being a foster carer which we work hard to understand and share through our online and face-to-face training courses. We always aim to incorporate (anonymous) case studies in our work and training materials and so we would be interested to hear your experiences of caring for a child of a different ethnicity. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have your own experience to share. We’d love to hear from you.