I entered the foster care system when I was eight years old. My mother simply left the house one rainy evening. I didn't know what to do, so I went to the neighbors. Soon a police car came and took me away. I was terrified.
My foster mom is great. She is not Latina like me, but she did her best to keep me connected to my culture by making tamales and other ethnic foods. I was never exposed to many Latino traditions, however. My heritage is Mexican and Filipino, but I don't know how to speak or understand Spanish or Tagalog, and I learned some customs the hard way, like what you do when you enter someone's house or are having a conversation with an elder.
In school, I dreaded the assignment of making your family tree. I had to tell the teacher, "I am sorry, but I need to be exempted from this assignment." I didn't know who my dad was, or any of my relatives, except for my mom and my sisters.
I finally met members of my mother's family at a funeral for an uncle when I was 16 years old. They showed me pictures of my mom when she was younger, and I wondered what it would have been like to know these cousins and aunts as I was growing up and how it would have felt to be a part of my heritage.
Latinos have a long and proud history of strong, extended family ties. A report released recently by Generations United, shows that more than 33 percent of Latino foster children in California live with relatives.
Yet, most federal child welfare dollars cannot be used to support guardianships by relatives, when foster children cannot be safely reunified with their parents or adopted. As a result, many Latino children remain in the foster care system unnecessarily, instead of living permanently with grandparents and other relatives who love them.
The Kinship Caregiver Support Act, a bipartisan bill now under consideration by Congress would help move Latino children out of foster care by allowing states to use federal foster care funds to subsidize guardianships. California and a few other states have put programs in place to assist relatives who become legal guardians, but there needs to be a federal solution. The Kinship Caregiver Support Act would give all states a permanent and reliable capacity to subsidize relative guardianships.
I have been lucky. I love my foster family, and they love me in return. They are in the process of adopting me, and I am comforted to know that I will have the stability, security and love of a permanent family. But I have met many other kids who aren't as lucky. They were separated from their families and bounced around from placement to placement. They are broken and lost.
Federal support for guardianships by grandparents and other relatives could give many Latino children in foster care a permanent family. We need to do everything we can to make that happen.
2007 FosterClub All-Star Joscelynn Carbonell, better known as JoJo, is a 24 year old California native. After becoming a ward of the court at the age eight because of her mother's inability to care for her, she spent 10 years in care. Her advice to foster youth is that your past does not define your future.
Read more about maintaining culture...
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Read about 2006 All Star Daryle Conquering Bear's testimony in front of the U.S. Congressional Ways and Means Committee about the importance of maintaining a connection with his culture