Austin has a shortage of foster families, but outreach has been limited

Art of the Gala Oct 23 Austin
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For Austin-area Spanish-speakers seeking to foster or adopt a child in the care of the state, there are very limited opportunities to do so. That’s because the information and training sessions required to become a foster or adoptive parent are not offered in Spanish in the Austin region.

In fact, Austin is the only region in Texas that does not offer the required information in Spanish, according to Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman from the Department of Family and Protective Services. But a new cross-sector collaborative called the Travis County Collaborative for Children is addressing this issue.

Ana Acosta, the community engagement specialist who manages the collaborative’s recruiting tool, FosterCommunity.org, says she became aware of the discrepancy when she began outreach efforts to the Spanish-speaking community. ” “I have identified families that are interested in becoming foster or adoptive parents. Right now, we are collecting a list of those families in order to connect them to future trainings.”,” she said.

One reason the sessions have not been offered in Spanish, say child placement agencies, is that no one was requesting it. “There aren’t a lot of calls from Spanish speakers in this region,” said Krystale Bezio, senior vice president of operations for Upbring, a nonprofit agency that’s part of the collaborative. But, Bezio added, Upbring also does not recruit Spanish-speaking families specifically.

“In terms of a specific appeal for Spanish speakers, we don’t narrow it down like that. We are looking for families to provide a loving home, so it’s an appeal for anyone who wants to become a foster parent,” said Bezio. “Word-of-mouth is our biggest recruitment tactic, so we rely on our networks.”

A snapshot from August 2017 on children waiting for adoption shows that Hispanic children are the largest race/ethnic group, with 381 of 933 children in the Austin region, and 130 of those in Travis county. While it’s not known how many speak Spanish as their primary language, research has shown that the Austin region has a serious shortage of foster families. The collaborative’s 2016 analysis showed that more than 30 percent of Travis County’s children in care are placed outside of the county.

“We’re not meeting our own need,” said Megan Avery Zellner, foster an adoption program director for The Settlement Home for Children, which is part of the collaborative. She said the outreach effort was working and that FosterCommunity.org has been able to identify Spanish-speakers who want to learn more about being a foster parent, “But I don’t think we really thought this through,” she said.

Now that more Spanish-speakers are inquiring about becoming foster families,the collaborative is in the process of translating all of the information materials into Spanish and facilitating access to Spanish-speaking trainers. These resources would be shared among all of the child placement agencies in the collaborative. “It’s a lot,” said Zellner, “but it’s not impossible.”

Photo by ANDRIK LANGFIELD PETRIDES on Unsplash

NOTE: This article was also published in the Austin American-Statesman on February 25, 2018.

Art of the Gala Oct 23 Austin
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