Latino foster families being sought
By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa
June 5, 2012: Latino foster families are scarce in many parts of Ohio and Michigan. Lucas County Children Services (LCCS), for example, is seeking Latino families to join its legion of host families for foster children—families like Lorenzo and Katrina Flores, now on their second round of caring for children who were abused or neglected.
“There are a lot of kids out there, they just don’t have family,” said Lorenzo, the production manager at a local company that makes fishing lures. “I think that’s terrible. Hopefully we can help them out.”
“We feel the same way about it,” said Katrina, as she gently held a two-month-old sleeping baby the couple now is fostering. “If we can make a little bit of a difference, I think that’s valuable.”
The couple also runs their own photography and portrait business out of their home, giving them added flexibility to be foster parents. The Flores family has two young boys of their own—five-year old Corvin and Lucien, age 6—but recently had as many as eight children living with them—all eight years old and younger.
“It was fun. It was chaotic. It was noisy,” said Lorenzo with a smile. “There was always something going on. Someone’s always smiling. Of course, that means someone’s also crying. It’s all part of raising children.
“We had eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one,” said Katrina with a hearty laugh. “That’s why we were not really suited to have that group. It was too many and too close in age. Of course we loved them all. But we couldn’t give each one the attention that they needed.”
But the chaotic situation ended happily, when five siblings found an adopted home earlier this spring and moved to Idaho to live with their adoptive parents.
The Holland couple, now married for a decade, first became foster parents two years ago.
“We had been talking about it for a long time, even when we were dating in college,” said Lorenzo, originally from San Antonio. “It’s something that we both felt strongly about. Then we had two boys and we thought, ‘Do we want to try for a girl? How many kids do we really want to have?’ We knew there were already plenty of kids out there who don’t have parents, so we started to do fostering.”
Lorenzo and Katrina became college sweethearts at Wittenberg University. The couple, each 33, contend they get as much out of their relationships with the foster children as the kids do.
“Just the different people that we’ve touched—that have touched us, too,” she said. “We’re going to make a difference, but I think they’ve changed us more that we’ve changed them. Just the love from a kid, it can’t be described.”
“You just never really realize how much patience it’s going to take,” he said with a laugh. “It’s great and it’s fulfilling, but you really have to learn all these personalities of these children and being able to watch them grow up while they’re there.”
But the couple admitted it’s hard not to get attached when providing a temporary home to kids. No better example was evident than when Lorenzo and Katrina began talking about five siblings they had to say goodbye to when they found a forever family in Idaho. The tears flowed freely.
The oldest of the five siblings was eight years old, but all of the children mixed in well with the two Flores boys who were near the same age. Lorenzo and Katrina took the two youngest kids into their home two years ago—then the other three siblings came to them nine months ago. But through a national adoption network, the African-American kids were able to stay together and find an adoptive family willing to take them all.
“I did get very attached—and that’s something that they need,” said Katrina, who alternated between tears and laughter in recalling the experience. “You have to do that for them, because sometimes they don’t know how to do that. They need that to be successful in their next attachments, so of course you do it.”
But she also admitted saying goodbye was probably the hardest experience of her life. Now a stay-at-home mom, she had the most contact with the kids throughout the day. But their departure still hurt, even knowing they were headed to a good home and understanding hers was just a temporary assignment.
“I cried every day for almost two months before they left,” said Katrina, wiping away tears at just the recollection of the pain.
She even admitted that painful goodbye may keep some couples from deciding to become foster parents themselves.
“It’s definitely something you have to think about,” she admitted. “Ultimately, it’s worth it, regardless. We stay in contact.”
What helped the Flores family say goodbye was a series of individual letters they wrote each child and placed in a life-book they kept for each sibling.
“It’s something they may not be able to grasp what they meant to us now, but hopefully when they get a little older,” Lorenzo said, choking back tears. “They can understand how much they meant to us.”
LCCS currently has 257 care-giving families providing temporary homes for Lucas County children who have suffered abuse or neglect. The total number of agency foster homes has declined by nearly 25 percent since 2009. The child welfare agency attributes that to the recent economic downturn—families either had to help their own, or no longer met the income guidelines required by the state of Ohio to continue.
The Flores family is starting over as foster parents even after saying that tough goodbye, because they know other kids still need them. They took in a two-month-old baby girl. LCCS does not discuss publicly the circumstances that lead children to foster care.
“We’ll be here as long as she needs us to be,” said Katrina, clinging the sleeping infant tightly to her chest. “It’s hard to say what that would be right now.”
The infant’s birth mother will have a chance to get her life straightened out. The little girl represents what Lorenzo and Katrina are hoping to have in their own lives—and may one day get the opportunity to adopt her. But that’s up to the birth mom’s future actions, the courts, and a whole host of factors outside the control of the Flores family.
“If there’s a family member that can take her, then that’s where she’ll go,” said Katrina with a sigh, seemingly resigned to the fact that her assignment may be temporary. “She came at the perfect time. She was our number eight for ten days.”
May was National Foster Care Month, which served as an opportunity for LCCS to appeal for more adults and families to become foster caregivers in Lucas County. There are free foster parent training sessions scheduled the week of June 18-23 from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. each day at LCCS offices, 705 Adams Street, in downtown Toledo.
“If it’s something you really want to do, you rearrange your schedule for it,” said Lorenzo, rather matter-of-factly. “That’s what it was for us. We had to find somebody to watch the kids, but it was something we wanted to do so we made the time.”
The need is particularly acute for families in the 43604, 43605, 43608, 43609 and 43611 zip codes. The agency needs caregivers for babies, children with special needs, as well as for families who are able to care for groups of three or more brothers and sisters, something similar to what the Flores family did.
While LCCS is trying to recruit families of all types to help with foster children, there is a shortage of Latino homes.
“Placement is not influenced by race or culture or anything like that,” emphasized Julie Malkin, LCCS public information officer. “The children are placed in the best family for them at initial placement. So we have a number of white children who go to African-American families, we have a number of African-American children who go to Caucasian families. But we try to have families of all ethnicities, because we never know who’s coming into the system.”
Still, when trying to find the best fit for a child, having more Latino foster families as an option becomes an increasingly important factor.
“It’s a very important issue, because you have a bunch of young children, especially Latinos, who are not—the biggest thing is education,” said Lorenzo. “Not so much school-wise, but in life. They don’t know that there’s a different way to live, that they might be able to get out of those obstacles that hold them back.”
“That person’s particular lifestyle, regardless of ethnicity or culture, might just be the right lifestyle for that child,” admitted Ms. Malkin.
So what advice would the couple have for anyone considering opening their home to foster kids?
“I think you don’t have to know everything yet,” offered Katrina. “You can learn as you go. If you’re thinking about it and that’s in your heart to do it, because there are a lot of kids who need help.”
Adults interested in learning more about becoming foster parents can call LCCS at 419-213-3336 for more information. If potential foster parents cannot attend the June training sessions, additional ones are scheduled later in the year. Other 2012 training dates are listed at the agency’s website: www.lucaskids.net.