http://www.suntimes.com/news/cepeda/2335714,CST-EDT-esther31.articleGot a big heart? Bilingual? Be a foster parent
May 31, 2010
BY ESTHER J. CEPEDA Sun-Times Columnist
And in this week's edition of "How Can I Make This World A Better Place?" I'm going to tell you a story about love.
But first, a word from our sponsor . . . Today's heartwarming testament to the indomitability of the human spirit comes from none other than Luis Barrios, executive director of the Latino Consortium, eight Chicago nonprofit organizations under contract with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to provide child welfare services to Hispanic children and their families.
Barrios would like you to know that of the roughly 17,000 children in the Illinois foster care system, about 6 percent are Latino. And while they are only the sixth group most in need of foster parents (behind brother-sister pairs and ahead of babies born with HIV), those numbers are sure to grow as the Hispanic population continues its explosive growth.
Unsurprisingly, one of the big challenges to finding foster care parents for these kids is the language barrier.
"We need bilingual foster care parents -- those fluent in any language other than English, of course, but especially those who can speak Spanish," Barrios told me one sunny afternoon last week as he struggled with my remarkable ignorance about what foster care is and how it differs from adoption.
"Foster care is a temporary placement outside a child's home, usually due to abuse, neglect or other family problems -- it's an alternative to group homes or institutional care -- but it's not intended as a permanent living arrangement," he told me. "The point is to protect the child, with the ultimate goal of returning the child back home to the rehabilitated family."
It's exactly because of that end goal of reuniting children with their families that bilingual foster care parents are critical: It's not because the kids don't speak English, but because the foster family must be able to communicate with the child's family in their language.
And now, this week's edition of "How Can I Make This World A Better Place?"
Let me tell you about Georgina Salmeron. One fine day 16 years ago, her husband, Francisco, who at the time worked for Seguin Services, a nonprofit, community-based agency offering social and rehabilitative services to adults and children with special needs, came home and asked her if she'd mind "fostering" a sick child he'd met at Seguin. At the time, they had four young ones of her own, but they had the guts to open their home and hearts to a child with a severe developmental disability.
"I can't say for sure, but by now it's probably been 10 kids we've had. Even though my own kids are grown and left the house, we still take foster kids in," Georgina told me. "We just like it so much we keep doing it -- and there's such a need!"
Georgina and Francisco are extremely unusual; not only are they Spanish bilingual, but they don't bat an eye at severe physical or developmental disabilities.
"Right now I have an African-American baby who just has so many problems because he was born with drug-related complications," she says matter of factly. "Our hands are always full."
How do they do it?
"It's not about the size of your house or your paycheck," she said. "It's about opening your heart. And what you get back. It's really a beautiful thing to open your life to a child who needs love -- and someone to love -- and patience, stability."
The answer to the question: "How Can I Make This World A Better Place?" is simple. Consider being a bilingual foster parent.
Call (800) 624-KIDS and a local DCFS or private child welfare agency representative will contact you, and after you've heard the tremendous impact you can have on the life of a child, you can decide if offering foster care is a good plan for you and your family.
"There are so, so many kids who need a temporary home," Georgina said, "and it's so beautiful to send them back to their family well-fed and happy."