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Cultural Receptivity among Foster Parents: Implications for Quality Transcultural Parenting

swrCulture is a word used to describe the way of life for groups who share the same race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, spirituality, socioeconomic status, or other characteristics that influence perceptions, attitudes, and behavior. It is a way for families to preserve and bequeath to future generations their contributions and legacies. However, all that is unique and special about culture, such as heritage, kin, customs, friends, foods, music, linguistics, expressions, and religious practices can be jeopardized when youths are placed with foster families of a different race, ethnicity, or culture. These youths are further at risk for adjustment problems when placements are made into families without addressing the foster parents’ potential to support the youths’ cultural needs.

Although there has been ongoing controversy centered on the appropriateness of transracial placements and whether transcultural parents can effectively parent youths who do not share their culture, little research exists on the availability and utility of prescreening transcultural fostering measures. In a recent issue of the journal Social Work Research, Tanya M. Coakley, PhD, and Kenneth Gruber, PhD, discuss their research into quality transcultural foster parenting. In the study, they assessed the ability of a set of practice-based measures to identify indicators of positive transcultural parenting for the use in the selection and training of foster parents.

Coakley and Gruber emphasize the importance of culturally-adept parenting strategies in order to provide a range of protective functions for minority youths that have been shown to be associated with more favorable psychosocial outcomes, such as fewer internalizing and externalizing behaviors, lower levels of depression, higher self-esteem with peers, better anger management (particularly for boys), fewer physical fights, better cognitive outcomes, and less stress from experiencing discrimination. In their research, they identified which factors contribute to better cultural parenting, including:

  • understanding, respecting, and learning from the youth;
  • compromising on disagreements;
  • considering the youth’s feelings;
  • and teaching rather than demanding behavior change in the youth.

The researchers used a compendium of foster parent measures to test for levels of culturally-adept parenting, all pulled together to ask one question:

“What are the indicators of positive transcultural parenting that can be used in the selection and training of foster parents?”

What the researchers found is that personal dedication, a willingness to receive training in transcultural understanding, a desire to help children build necessary skills, a willingness to adjust their beliefs, values and behaviors to reflect an intercultural lifestyle that is inclusive, sensitive, respectful, and appreciative of the differences between them and the youth, the availability to invest the necessary time, and other factors are clearly vital for intercultural foster parenting. Incorporating psychometrically sound prescreening assessments can help identify with greater precision a set of positive characteristics and qualities that a foster parent should possess, and further lead to effective transcultural parenting. Some foster parents can raise children of color well with minimal supports and prepare them to become successful adults with strong cultural identity, whereas others need intensive training and support to prepare them for transcultural parenting, and others could benefit from moderate assistance. Therefore, assessing predictors of high and low levels of cultural receptivity is critical to determine the level of supports needed for prospective transcultural parents and to determine whether they are qualified to parent culturally different youths. Coakley and Gruber suggest that the set of assessment inventories investigated in their study can be useful in selecting and training those interested in fostering a child of a different race, ethnicity, or culture.

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