Norma Duque-Acosta started a foster care program to end foster care as we know it. She hasn't reached her goal yet, but in the meantime she successfully runs Nuevo Amanecer Latino Children Services, number 16 on the Hispanic Business Top 25 Nonprofits directory.
Nuevo Amanecer ("new awakenings") maintains 600 abused or neglected children in foster homes for four California counties. "We are one of the few organizations focusing on Latino children, and more than 95 percent of the children we place are Latino," says Ms. Duque-Acosta. "The problem is we don't have enough families."
Every weekday, the organization receives more than 100 phone calls about children who need homes, but it can only place a few of those children. Once a child enters foster care, a Nuevo Amanecer social worker visits the home each week. Foster parents receive $615 to $825 per month, accounting for a large share of Nuevo Amanecer's $11.26 million in annual expenditures.
Data from the Department of Health & Human Services show that 89,177 Hispanic children were in foster care in 2002, representing 17 percent of all U.S. foster cases. While the Multiethnic Placement Act makes clear that race or ethnicity are not "the predominant or sole basis of child placement decisions," the trend in social work points toward a need for parents who live in Hispanic neighborhoods. The family-to-family method places children with foster families in the same school district as their biological family. "Let's say a child is removed from East Los Angeles. We are going to try to place that child in East L.A. so the school and the friends will remain the same," Ms. Duque-Acosta explains.
Children are safe with Nuevo Amanecer, but the larger problem begins with the biological parents, Ms. Duque-Acosta believes. Hence her plan for changing the system.
"No program exists to help parents better care for their children," she says. "When they go back to their parents, it's back to square one. ... If [government agencies] would spend more money on education, we wouldn't have the problem."
Recent immigrants represent most of the parents in question, and they bring with them a custom of physically disciplining children. Then the U.S. justice system gets involved, and "once the child is in the system, he's labeled forever," in Ms. Duque-Acosta's words.
So far she has written proposals and lobbied politicians for parental education programs, to no avail. But Ms. Duque-Acosta and her husband Jorge "still have the dream that someday we can get rid of [foster care] in all but the extreme cases. If we don't develop a program, I don't see this getting any better."
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