With a boom in U.S. Latinos in the 2000s, foster care systems across the country have seen a corresponding rise in the amount of Latino children waiting to be adopted. But Texas is keeping that number lower than others by hiring Spanish-speaking social workers and allowing undocumented family members to adopt.
Between 2000 and 2010, Texas’ youth population grew from being 40.5 percent Latino to 48.3 percent Latino. In 2012, the Texas Department of Family Protective Services (DFPS) implemented a new policy to allow undocumented family members to adopt kids in the state’s foster care system as long as they pass a rigorous vetting process and there is a backup plan in case of deportation of the adoptive parent.
“It’s part of the whole philosophy of the agency: recognizing that children first and foremost deserve to be within their own family if there’s any possible way that they can be safe and have a permanent residence,” Melanie Cleveland, the Texas DFPS division administrator in charge of placement, told the Chronicle for Social Change.
Ordinarily, Texas DFPS is not an agency known for its efficiency. In fact, the entire department is under reconstruction after U.S. District Judge Janis Graham Jack in Corpus Christi found that, “Texas’ foster care system is broken, and it has been that way for decades.” In December 2015, Jack ruled in favor of nine children who sued the state on behalf of all Texas kids in long-term foster care after hearing testimony that the state's DFPS forces thousands of children to live in poorly supervised institutions, routinely moves them from one place to another and often separates siblings.
Still it seems as though Texas is being more effective than other states with high Latino populations when it comes to adoption. An Chronicle for Social Change infographic shows that the percentage of Latino kids in the Texas foster care system waiting to be adopted grew four percent from 2003 to 2013, while the percentage in California during that same time period increased 14 percent.
One possible reason for the disparity is that Texas DFPS hires a lot of Spanish-speaking staff. Cleveland told the the daily newspaper that the state employs a high number of Spanish-speaking supervisors, caseworkers, aides and translators, and in South Texas, where the majority of the population is Latino, they employ more Spanish-speaking staff than not. They even pay for an interpreter service to accompany families to court hearings and they require all adoption literature to be published in Spanish.
By comparison, in 2013, a researcher from the University of California-Berkeley published a dissertation on why people drop out of the adoption process. She studied adoption agencies in two Northern California counties and found that both agencies only employed only one bilingual adoption case manager. Each bilingual case manager was responsible for the workload of two English-only case managers. As a result, Spanish-speaking families trying to adopt were subjected to longer wait times and some of them dropped out of the process before it was complete.
Undocumented Latinos also fear revealing their status to any government agencies, so having a Spanish-speaking case manager is a huge factor in gaining the trust of potential adoptive parents.
Texas’ focus on keeping Latino foster kids with their families, even if that family is undocumented, sounds good at first blush, but it does raise the issue of stability. If the goal is to place the child in a stable home, what trauma awaits that child if their adoptive parent is deported? No backup plan in the world can compensate for that, especially when you consider that thousands of kids in the foster care system are there because their birth parents were deported. A study published in 2011 by the Applied Research Center conservatively estimated there were at least 5,100 children living in foster care at that time as a result of their parents being either detained or deported. The study found that the family separation can last for extended periods of time and that, too often, these children lose the opportunity to ever see their parents again when a juvenile dependency court terminates parental rights. The study went on to estimate that within five years, at least 15,000 more children would end up in this situation.
It all points to a need for greater financial investment in foster care and for massive reform of both that and the immigration systems.