By Yvette L. Craig
Many people say that the child’s race or ethnicity does not matter when it comes to fostering or adopting children. Providing a safe and loving home, regardless of whether they look like them or share their cultural heritage and traditions, is what many say is evidence of loving a child unconditionally.
To Rachel Warren culture and racial heritage do matter. That’s because being raised in households where the importance of race is not acknowledged can ultimately affect children in the long run. Learning about and respecting a child’s culture, while finding ways to maintain their connections to it, are critical components to helping an adopted or foster child thrive.
Findinf mentors and role models is one suggestion for bridging the learning gap. Making new connections in your community, and simply acknowledging racism are also key. Warren went one step further. The University of Wisconsin-Madison student, working to earn her master’s degree in social work, started an initiative called A Box of Black Excellence.
“Many times, Black youth in foster care find themselves in predominately white spaces,” said Warren, a Dane County SubCare intern. “They are often being supported by predominately white adults like white foster parents, white therapists, white social workers, and even white teachers. Even though these adults are highly skilled, deeply loving and well-intentioned, there are times that they don’t have the resources ꟷ or lived experience ꟷ to shape Black youth specifically in regards to Black self-love and life.
“I started the Box of Black Excellence initiative to equip white caretakers and to empower Black youth navigating these various placements. Each box is decorated with inspiring images of Black excellence, and is full of Black books, Black movies, Black music, Black dolls, and more. The idea is to promote Black boy joy and Black girl magic, and to provide a way for Black youth in foster care to engage in continuous learning and celebration of Black history and culture alongside their caretakers.” Warren added.
These gender-specific “boxes” were unveiled during a packed Black History Month celebration with the Dane County Human Services Department on the city’s northside. The attendees were treated like African royalty, complete with a velvet red runner and gold crowns.
Family-friendly R&B music filled the room. Collard greens, sweet potatoes, fried chicken, corn bread and macaroni and cheese were served. Warren said it was intentional, to demonstrate one way Black families get together and celebrate one another.
Unique activities were also on hand. The youngsters got to bang a wooden gavel as they learned about Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court justice who played an instrumental role in promoting racial equality during the civil rights movement. Electric keyboards were available to play while hearing the history of renown songwriter and musician Stevie Wonder. With mischievous grins, the children grabbed Super Soakers with hopes of spraying water on someone, all the while being made aware that a Black man, Lonnie Johnson, invented the toy in 1990.
Snapshot of Dane County Foster Care
• Dane County currently has 169 foster homes
• 22% of those homes are foster children of color
• 131 kids are in foster care. (as of March 1, 2020)
• 60% of the children in foster care are Black; 10% are Latino; and, 2% are Native American
• There is a total of 49 kids of color in 33 white foster homes; and, two of the foster homes
are relative or kinship foster homes
“This is a wonderful resource that would inform and engage white foster parents with the vibrant aspects of Black culture and community in Madison,” Warren said.
Parents at the event asked for anonymity to protect their children’s identities. Many did say, however, that they back Warren’s efforts, adding they’re eyes were opened and are eager to learn more.
“The Black Excellence Boxes are a wonderful way to help white foster parents help their Black foster children celebrate being Black,” said Dawn Douglas, foster care coordinator for Dane County Foster Care. “We are hoping it starts the important conversations needed with our kids. We are very lucky that administration is supportive of this project and being able to sustain it for the future.”
Douglas said foster placements of younger children in Dane County has seen a decrease, with more court ordered and voluntary relative placements occurring. Overall, 22% of Dane County’s foster homes are families of color. And, more traditionally care for older children.
Children and teens enter foster care through no fault of their own, because they have been abused, neglected, or abandoned and are unable to continue living safely with their families. According to the federal data, there are roughly 400,000 children in foster care in the United States. They range in age from infants to 21 years old (in some states). The average age of a child in foster care is more than 8 years old, and there are slightly more boys than girls.
At any given time, approximately 8,000 children are in foster care across Wisconsin, according to Dane County Department of Human Services.
To find out more about being a Dane County Foster Parent, visit https://fostercare.dcdhs.com/.