Wanted: More Fil-Am foster parents
LOS ANGELES — Patricia Valenzuela-Kent said she has always wanted to adopt a child. She had looked into international adoption, but found the cost and requirements too restrictive.
Then she learned about fostering children and decided it was a way she could fulfill her dream of caring for and loving a child without the hurdles involved in international adoption.
Valenzuela-Kent, 46, underwent a training program to become a certified resource parent – which means she is certified to be both a foster and an adoptive parent – through Korean American Family Services (KFAM), a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that serves Korean American and Asian Pacific Islander (API) families.
She admitted initially feeling resistant about becoming a resource parent because she wanted to adopt a child. Yet in that role, her primary purpose would be to provide a temporary home for a child that has been separated from their family for various reasons, such as domestic violence or substance abuse, while they work toward reunification.
Still, she ultimately decided to move forward with the process.
“Through KFAM I realized that when a child needs you, a child needs you,” she said. “And my heartbreak or heartache or loss will hopefully be compensated with the fact that for the time when the child was with me, they were able to experience a childhood.”
Valenzuela-Kent is one of three Filipino Americans who have become certified resource families through KFAM’s Asian Foster Family Initiative, which launched in 2013 in response to a lack of API foster and resource parents who could care for API foster youth.
“[The Department of Children and Family Services] kept telling us there’s just not enough Asian foster parents in the system,” Connie Chung Joe, executive director of KFAM, said. “They kept asking us, do you know of any other Korean or Asian families who would want to become foster parents? Because we just don’t have enough.”
KFAM became a licensed foster family agency in December 2016 and has since certified 37 API resource families, Chung Joe said. The organization is currently focused on recruiting more Filipinos and Chinese to become resource parents.
According to the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services, there are more than 21,000 foster kids in the County. Of those, 608 are Asian American Pacific Islanders, 205 of whom are Filipino American.
Forty-two foster children have been placed in the care of the families certified through KFAM, Chung Joe said, though the three Filipino-American families who are still waiting for their placements.
Placing foster youth in resource families that share their cultural and ethnic background is crucial for children who have been separated from their families, explained Mariah Oca, foster family agency administrative coordinator for KFAM’s Asian Foster Family Initiative.
“Being removed from your home of origin is already traumatic enough,” she said. “Just having that familiarity and comfort of being in the home, even if they’re a stranger, if they share the same understanding of your food, of your culture, of your language, that can alleviate the trauma that the child has already gone through.”
KFAM will be holding orientations on Oct. 19, Oct. 26 and Nov. 5 geared toward Filipino and Chinese families interested in becoming resource parents. Chung Joe said that while some people might worry about being unqualified, no special credentials are required.
“Really, the fact that you are someone who is a Filipino-American family, that you come from that culture, makes you the best expert to provide a culturally appropriate home for a fellow Filipino-American child,” she said.
Oca said that because Filipinos are known for being hospitable and caring for others, she thinks it’s important for the community to tap into the bayanihan spirit it’s known for to help foster children in need. She added that KFAM and other professionals will assist resource families throughout the time they are caring for a child.
Valenzuela-Kent said she expects her first child to be placed in her care around the holidays. Her goal is to foster to adopt, but she’s prepared for the likelihood that the child won’t be the one that becomes part of her family permanently.
She said it was challenging to adjust to the possibility that she’ll have to let one or more children go before adopting a child.
“But now I’m at the point where whether it’s six months or six years, if I can be a positive impact to that child’s life, why not?” she said. “I hope that families, particularly Filipino families and households, if they can just look into it and see. I hope that they will see that it’s a worthy cause or addition to their families.”