Guest column by Mary Beth O’Neill that appeared in The Gazette:
As an organization that spans the whole of Iowa, Four Oaks faces many needs in the coming year. While specific needs can vary widely by program and region, there is one critical challenge we see throughout the state: a shortage of foster families, especially those with diverse backgrounds.
Children in foster care thrive when they are placed in temporary homes that feel familiar to them. As children transition to foster care, it can be devastating to leave not only their family of origin but also the familiarity of the customs, traditions, foods, music and even language that is ingrained in the culture they know and understand. Children have an increased sense of belonging when their foster family shares their culture and can provide an environment that feels like their home of origin.
Studies have shown that placing children with families of similar ethnic or racial backgrounds helps promote a positive cultural identity, which contributes to higher self-esteem and lower rates of depression and anxiety. A strong cultural identity is good for overall mental health and helps children learn the skills to combat any adversity they may encounter in their lives.
We have seen the difference culturally diverse foster families can make to our children in foster care. Recently, a diverse Four Oaks foster family welcomed two elementary-age girls. Before they arrived at the home, the girls did not have the support they needed to care for their textured hair.
The new home with an amazing foster family had the knowledge and resources the children needed. The foster parents understood the importance of hair conditioning and maintenance in the culture they shared with the children and were able to support the children physically and emotionally through their transition into foster care.
The need for diverse foster families across the state is great. From our biggest cities to our most remote rural areas, Iowa needs foster families that reflect the culture or ethnicity of our children in foster care.
Can you be a home that welcomes a child with the support and resources they need to thrive? Visit iowafosterandadoption.org/ to get started today.
Mary Beth O’Neill is president and CEO of Four Oaks.