Helping Latino Grandfamilies
BY JAIA LENT
Raising five grandchildren after age 60 was not in Mercedes’ life plan, but when she learned her grandchildren were going to be taken into foster care, there was no question in her mind that they needed to come and live with her. As a Latina and as a grandparent, Mercedes’ commitment to caring for family is as central to her as the air she breathes.
Through the cultural value of interdependence, Latino families maintain life-long connections, assistance, and support.
Kinship care is a familiar practice in Latino families like Mercedes’. Latinos have a long history of helping raise children in need of temporary or permanent families and exhibit a willingness to assist other families based on a strong value of community and an emphasis on family. The Latino concept of “familismo”/familism extends beyond blood relatives and includes friends, neighbors, and compadres/comadres (godparents). Through the cultural value of interdependence, Latino families maintain life-long connections, assistance, and support.
Displaying this value Mercedes fought for her family. She hired a lawyer and successfully advocated to have the children come live with her. She completed more than 60 hours of training courses, and multiple home inspections, and became licensed as a kinship foster parent. After thousands of dollars in legal costs and a painful period of separation from the children, Mercedes is happy to have her grandchildren with her now. Yet things have not been easy. The grandchildren suffer from ADHD and PTSD which affect their behavior. They require medication to treat these conditions as well as mental health and other supports to manage their behavior and help them heal. Getting access to culturally appropriate services for families like hers is a challenge.
Both outside and inside the child welfare system, the likelihood that Latino children will live in kinship families is significant. While Latino children are not overrepresented nationally in the child welfare system, they are overrepresented in many communities, often due to a range of factors that include poverty and discrimination.
Over the years, Latino immigrant families have been criminalized and deported at higher rates than other immigrant groups.
The number of Latino families in the United States is growing. During the past several decades, political unrest, economic conditions, U.S. intervention, wars, environmental disasters and violence in Latin American countries have propelled millions of individuals to seek a more secure life for themselves and their families in the U.S. The arrival of immigrants and their U.S. born children has been a major component of Latino population growth.
Immigrants have also experienced significant discrimination. About half (48 percent) of Hispanics overall said they had serious concerns about their place in the country, according to a Pew Research Center survey of Latino adults fielded in December 2019. While voicing their concerns over their place in U.S. society, 38 percent of Hispanic adults said they had personally experienced discrimination in the previous year. Over the years, Latino immigrant families have been criminalized and deported at higher rates than other immigrant groups. In addition to causing economic instability, family separation harms the socio-emotional and cognitive development of young children. Even when families have not encountered immigration enforcement, children of color feel the spillover effects of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies, and children as young as three have expressed fear that their parents will be taken away.
Since 2020, the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) has exacerbated systemic inequalities in the U.S. economy and health care system; disproportionately impacting communities of color and Latino immigrant communities in particular. Latino children were two times more likely than non-Latino white children to lose a primary or secondary caregiver to COVID-19.
All these factors point to a critical role for Latino grandparents as caregivers stepping up to care for children who so often come into their full-time care after having experienced significant trauma.
Mercedes understands the impact of these challenges all too well. She was forced to take early retirement because the obligations of taking care of her grandchildren made it impossible for her to keep her job. She struggled to pay for food and clothing for the children until she found a supportive community at the Abuelos y Nietos Juntos (Grandparents and Grandchildren Together) Support Group and found help from Caritas Legal Services. Now Mercedes runs the Texas Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program, a statewide advocacy organization that fights for culturally appropriate services for families like hers. Because of her work more grandfamilies in Texas are receiving the support they need to ensure their children and communities thrive.
When we respect and build on the cultural strengths of Latino grandfamilies, we strengthen communities for everyone who lives in them. Here are a few things you can do to be a culturally thoughtful neighbor and friend:
- Ask Latino children, youth, and elders about their cultural identities and needs.
- Learn about specific Latino cultural rituals, activities, and preferences by attending events, and studying the history, culture, and values of the community.
- Consult educational resources such as books, films, art, and music to learn about Latino heritage.
- Promote cultural rituals that assist in maintaining identity such as quinceaneras (fifteenth birthday celebration), religious or spiritual/ faith-based rituals, etc.
- Become culturally attuned with Latino populations and always make room for cultural variables. Maintain an investigative, humble attitude of not knowing enough rather than relying upon stereotypes.
Content from this article was excerpted from Generations United’s toolkit: Latino Grandfamilies: Helping Latino Children Thrive Through Connection to Culture and Family. Learn more:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – JAIA LENT
Jaia Peterson Lent is Deputy Executive Director of Generations United, a national organization dedicated to improving lives. Home to the National Center on Grandfamilies, Generations United is a leading voice for issues affecting families headed by grandparents or other relatives.
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