Shortage of Latino Foster Parents in Denver
The economic crisis, changes in the laws and cultural differences have resulted in a large number of Hispanic children coming under the care of municipal agencies in Denver due to a lack of suitable Latino foster families.
“Fifty-one percent of the almost 1,700 children in our care are Latinos. All of them need a family that offers them love, protection and hope. The reality is that we have the children, but we don’t have the families,” Fabiola Esposito, with the Child Welfare division of the Denver Department of Human Services, told Efe.
Esposito said that during the past year, almost 300 new children, most of them younger than 16, were added to Denver’s child protection system.
In March 2010, the Colorado legislature began to investigate the DDHS after it was discovered that between 2005 and 2008 more than 30 children had died while under government care.
The probe led to new measures to promote a faster response by the authorities in cases of complaints about child abuse or negligence.
In Esposito’s opinion, however, those regulations “do not reflect the Hispanic culture.”
“Hispanic parents leave their children alone, that is to say, in the care of an older (minor) sibling or of a relative or neighbor. According to the law, that is abuse or neglect of minors. And there only have to be three complaints before we have to intervene,” Esposito said.
Those complaints can come from relatives, teachers, doctors, neighbors, the police or people outside the family but concerned about the children’s well-being.
The change in the operating regulations for child protection services comes at a time of economic crisis that began in 2007 and which forces many Hispanic parents to work long hours in multiple jobs to be able to support their children, who therefore spend a lot of time alone at home.
As a result, in recent years there has been an increase in the number of complaints about child neglect and abuse on the part of Hispanic families, which in turn has led to more than half of the children in the DDHA’s care being Latinos, although only 35 percent of Denver residents are Hispanic.
“Latino immigrant families don’t understand the cultural and legal differences between their countries of origin and the United States. But the hospital personnel or those from other public entities also fail to understand those differences, and so they call the police or social services each time an Hispanic child arrives,” said Esposito.
Therefore, she said, there is a disproportionate number of Hispanic children in the care of government agencies and a disproportionate number of Latino parents are being accused of child neglect or abuse.
As a result, there are few Hispanic families who are offering to help raise children as foster parents or even become adoptive parents. And among the families that come to the DDHA with this desire, only a few are qualified to carry out that task.
“We can’t leave these children alone. If they are without a family, studies show that they will end up on the street, or in jail, or dead, because they never knew what it is like to live in a family,” said Rosa Vergil, the director of Family to Family, a local organization dedicated to caring for physically or psychologically abused Hispanic children.
Vergil has been a foster mother for almost two decades. “For my foster children, I’m their mother, I’m their family. I do it for the community, because my goal is to give a good future to those children.”