by Janier Caban- Hernandez
If you asked six years ago if I wanted to be a foster dad, I would have said, “NO way Jose!” Being a single, Latino male I had no idea what I could offer a child, especially as I generally don’t like little kids. As I was going through the PRIDE (Parent Resource for Information, Development, Education) classes, I became increasingly nervous as I learned more and more about the needs of these children. Could I deliver, am I ready and what about the “what ifs”…?
I was ready to speak to the trainer and drop out, until I befriended four Latino foster teenagers who lived in another foster home. After raiding my refrigerator and asking me to cook them Puerto Rican food, they encouraged me to become a foster father as “there aren’t any Latino men.” All the teens that come to my home are Latinos because from the start, we have something in common: a cultural connection and understanding of the importance of “familia” (family), “respecto”(respect) and “confianza” (“trust”).
Little kids always drove me crazy, but teenagers are an age group that I can talk and negotiate with. What I have learned about living with teenagers, I learned by attending post-licensing training, participating in roundtable discussions with other foster parents and foster teenagers and mostly by talking with the boys in my house (…and at times, “therapeutic yelling” helps!).
I tell the boys that come to my home that:
- You don’t earn my respect or trust, you only lose it.
- When you get me upset, you’ll be the first to know and when I get you upset, I want to be the first to know.
- I’ll make mistakes, so help me out.
- Help me understand how to use my cell phone, please!
- Being courteous is never old fashioned.
- Women like to be respected and not treated as “one of the boys.”
- I’ll cook dinner, but you clean up.
- As we need to communicate, I’ll get you a cell phone and pay half the bill, you pay the other half with your chore money.
- Your education is NOT an option, you HAVE to go to school and if you need school related items, I’ll get it.
- You’ll get $10 for every “A” grade.
- Don’t tell me you are proud of being a Puertorriqueño, show me by your actions and deeds.
My boys are part of my family. Some have moved out but we still contact each other and when they need help, they know they can call me. Now that I co-facilitate PRIDE classes and open houses, I challenge the participants to consider teenagers, as there is such a need for them to be welcomed to a nurturing and supportive foster home. After all, those cute little kids eventually become teenagers!
If you are interested in fostering a teen, please contact your social service worker. The Bair Foundation has an urgent need for foster parents who are willing to open their hearts and homes to teens.