September 16th begins Hispanic Heritage Month. According to CNN, Hispanics “are the largest minority in the United States” with more than 58.6 million people or one out of every six people you will meet today. Roughly two-thirds of Latinos are of Mexican ancestry.
While you may know these statistics, you may not be aware of the tens of thousands of Latino foster children whose civil rights have been and continue to be violated year after year by foster care agencies.
The vast majority of Hispanic foster children are U.S. citizens and not the children that are reported to have been brought across the U.S.-Mexican border. The only “crime” these foster kids have committed is being Latino. As such, these American-born children are entitled to their civil rights. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), this federal law makes it illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. The civil rights of Latino foster children are being violated specifically because of their Hispanic ancestry.
The Fostering Connections Act of 2008 (FCA) Sec. 103 Notification of Relatives of the Fostering Connections Act of 2008 states:
“. . . that, within 30 days after the removal of a child from the custody of the parent or parents of the child, the State shall exercise due diligence to identify and provide notice to all adult grandparents and other adult relatives of the child (including any other adult relatives suggested by the parents), subject to exceptions due to family or domestic violence…”
Many states have since passed foster care laws with similar wording - in part to qualify to receive federal funding to support family finding efforts. These states receive millions of dollars in federal aid that is then passed on to county foster care agencies and contracted non-profits. The majority of offices have some process in place for performing family finding due diligence. Some even have a well-oiled machine that does exceptional work.
Agencies are also able to take advantage of massive national databases at very economic costs from companies such as Intelius and LexisNexis. When you put together the resources available to foster care agencies, it should be no surprise that offices get about an 85% success rate when searching for a foster child’s family members. Of course, this success relies heavily on a foster child having two parents whose relatives have been in the U.S. for generations.
Knowing the whereabouts of both parents is critically important because the laws have been written to protect the rights of parents. This concerns aspects of their children’s lives ranging from their daily diet, doctor visits, school attended, and outside activities. For example, California Regulations under the Welfare and Institutions Code 302 (b) state:
“Unless their parental rights have been terminated, both parents shall be notified of all proceedings involving the child… The social worker shall also provide both parents, whether custodial or noncustodial, or any guardian, or the counsel for the parent or guardian a copy of the report prior to the hearing, either personally or by first-class mail.”
Unfortunately, tens of thousands of Hispanic foster children are not so lucky. Despite being U.S. citizens, these kids often have a grandparent, other family members or even a parent who is still living outside the U.S. While some foster kids can provide their case worker with names, addresses and phone numbers of relatives, many others have little to no information about their family members living abroad. To make matters even more challenging, a parent may, as some do, provide inaccurate information on the whereabouts of the other parent or their relatives.
Agencies also have to contend with other issues when a case involves a Hispanic child. Legal documents may be Spanish. The names of family members will be in Spanish, and they will have two last names. Relatively few case workers read or understand Spanish. To give you an idea of how critical the situation is, in 2011 a grand jury delivered a scathing report about the Napa County California’s child welfare services. In a county where one-third of the residents are Hispanic, the agencies only had two employees who were bilingually certified.
However, despite any obstacles, foster care agencies are still mandated to “provide notice to all adult grandparents and other adult relatives of the child.” Yet foster children of Hispanic ancestry are most likely being discriminated against because agencies are either not performing due diligence in locating and notifying family members, or are performing what could be considered deficient diligence because of the national origin of these children.
Remember that these local agencies are receiving millions of dollars to locate a foster child’s family members. If someone says they will do a job and then just takes the money without providing the service, that’s theft. Unfortunately, that is what is happening in foster care offices across the country.
Right now you may be thinking, “But it’s going to cost so much money to find those relatives.” The argument by agencies that it’s too costly to locate relatives of a Latino foster child is groundless. Each year a child spends in a group home can cost as much as $84,000. These high numbers are supported in the decisive report, “Institutions vs. Foster Homes: The Empirical Base for a Century of Action,” which states:
“The costs of institutional care far exceed those for foster care or treatment foster care. The difference in monthly cost can be 6 to 10 times as high as foster care.”
So let’s say it costs $1,000 to find a child’s relatives in Mexico. For the $84,000 that would be spent on a single year of foster care for one child, the relatives of 84 children could be found, saving the state almost $7 million ($6,972,000) per year. Our organization, Forever Homes for Foster Kids, specializes in such cases. Our success rate is about 78% in such cases (65 children), representing a potential savings of more than $5.7 million ($5,770,800) per year.
Foster care agencies don’t have to spend thousands ramping up efforts to do family finding abroad. Just as they do for family finding in the U. S., counties can contract out the work. So why don’t they? It’s because – sad to say – in too many foster care agencies, a Latino child isn’t seen as being as deserving as a non-Latino child, and it appears that these agencies have decided that Latino kids aren’t worth the effort to find their families.
An official with the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, admitted to me in a private conversation that the rights of Hispanic foster youths are likely being violated. The worst part of this terrible crisis is that, as far as we know, no Latino organization has stepped up to address these civil rights violations on behalf of the 80,000 Hispanic children in foster care.
But there are ways to help. What can you do? Write and share a post on social media. Call your local politician. Look for solutions. My purpose in writing this column is the hope that you, the reader, will share this with others. Maybe this time next year, organizations such as the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), La Raza or other Hispanic groups will become involved.
Family finding clearly and quickly moves the needle from desperate to hopeful, from a child's despair to the promise of a better life. This life change doesn’t need to take months or years; it can happen within weeks. One day a child is alone, and the next they are talking with their aunt, grandmother or older sibling.
All foster children deserve to be treated equally. Parents and relatives can be found! Each child can be given the opportunity to be placed with a loving, caring family member instead of left to languish for years under the care of a government entity. Taking away their chance at a brighter future simply because these foster children are of Hispanic ancestry is obscene.