Kinship Foster Care: Why Culture is important

Kin and Culture provide a sense of belonging to the foster child

We are delighted to celebrate the first anniversary of StartFosterCare.org and the May 2022 National Foster Care month. Kinship connections and stronger families is a focus of this year’s foster care month.See the Children’s Bureau and Child Welfare Information Gateway website.

For this post we explain why culture is important to the foster child.

No culture is good or bad, it’s just different. We all tend to believe that our own culture is the best! Once we reflect we realize that cultures are not good or bad- they are just different. For example, different cultures can value work over leisure and be equally happy . A very influential study of multi-national culture was conducted by Geert Hofstede (1980) in the book “Culture’s Consequences“. IBM commissioned the study in the 1970’s. International Business Machines (IBM- also called Big Blue)) was the iconic American company, so revered, that company purchasing managers worldwide swore” You can’t be fired if you bought IBM”. IBM had discovered a strange problem in their multiple global offices: Despite hiring the best people in each country, IBM discovered that each country seemed to interpret the same exact instructions differently. For example, if the office starts at exactly 8.30 am local time, one country would have employees arriving before time while another country would have employees arriving late. Hofstede did his landmark study across IBM offices globally and identified cultural dimensions that differed between countries. These cultural dimensions explained their attitudes, behavior and approach to life and work. Recently, Hofstede has a developed a great website where you can compare country cultures’ on Hoftede’s dimensions. Try Hofstede’s culture comparison tool– and be prepared for surprises! In 2022, despite instant news, social media and our always on smart phones culture persists. Your own culture and community makes you feel warm, cozy and comfortable.

Culture in the foster kids biological family: Going by the logic that that no culture is good or bad, we need to accept that the foster kid’s biological family has its own culture. And it’s neither good or bad. But can be very different from our own. Yes it was severe family dysfunction that that led to removal of the child by the State.It is possible that the child has relatives nearby who have a functioning family and are ready to take the child in. Thus, most US States (we are talking with) , prioritize such kinship foster kid placements. At one level extended families have similar cultures. But think of the drama surrounding extended family gatherings during weddings and holidays. Even for the most “cultured” families! There can be acute differences in behavior, attitude among different family units. Nevertheless a common culture gives some sense of stability and belonging to the foster kid. This in turn makes the child feel more connected to family. The question as to whether feeling more connected to family leads to better outcomes for the foster child is still being researched. Also it’s not clear if the biological family or kinship foster parents fare better than when the foster parent is unrelated to the child. See a meta-analysis in Clinical child and family psychology review (2021) by Allison Hassall, Elmie Janse van Rensburg, Sebastian Trew, David J. Hawes, and Dave S. Pasalich.

To summarize, if you are a kinship foster parent there are certain foster kid outcomes that you might be able to deliver better because of your common culture. Sometimes kin foster parents can try to manage everything internally because its “family” but it can be too much according to some research. In such situations, do not hesitate to reach out for support from your State professional resources. If you are an unrelated foster parent remember that understanding and accepting the culture in the foster child’s family community is critical. Just your nonjudgemental approach can greatly enhance the sense of stability and belonging in the foster child.

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