Latino Grandfamilies: Helping Latino Children Thrive Through Connection To Culture And Family

Toolkit Introduction

About 2.7 million children live in grandfamilies or kinship care, families in which children are being raised by grandparents, other extended family members, and adults with whom they have a close family-like relationship such as godparents. According to Pew Research Center, 1-in-5 Americans live in a multigenerational home. Growing racial and ethnic diversity in the U.S. helps explain some of the rise in multigenerational living. More specifically, Asian and Latino populations overall are growing more rapidly than their white counterparts, and are more likely than white non-Latino to live in multigenerational family households.

Kinship care is a familiar practice in Latino families. 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). Latino families maintain life-long connections, assistance, and support through the value of interdependence. 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.

For example, there were 60,045 children in care in California as of October 2020. The California Department of Social Services (2020) highlights that in 2019, Black children were 6 percent of the child population but made up 18 percent of the foster care entries; Latino children were 47 percent of the child population and accounted for 53 percent of foster care entries; and Native American children represent 0.50 percent of the population and accounted for 1 percent of foster care entries. The overrepresentation of youth of color in the child welfare system is not unique to California. In the United States, 58 percent of foster youth are children of color compared with 42 percent of all children in the United States. Racial disproportionality results from structural and institutional racism, both within child welfare systems and society at large. Disproportionate involvement in child welfare causes disproportionate harm to children and families of color. Once Latino families are involved in that system, they may face additional barriers compared to their white non-Latino counterparts, such as navigating access to services and language difficulties. Culturally appropriate services are needed to support Latino families as they navigate kinship care placements, which appeal to the family system fundamental to Latino culture.

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 United States. The arrival of immigrants and their U.S. born children has been a major component of Latino population growth and diversity. 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, not fully understanding their parents’ immigration status.

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.

As a result of economic necessity, Latinos are more likely to be at risk of contracting the virus, due to high rates of employment as essential workers in service industries that are not amenable to teleworking. Latinos are also more likely to live in housing that may include multigenerational families in densely populated neighborhoods, making it challenging to maintain social distancing. Approximately 41 million Latino adults reside in the U.S., roughly half are immigrants. Perhaps due to the previous Administration’s anti-immigrant policies, such as the 2018 Zero Tolerance Policy that ramped up criminal prosecution of those entering the U.S. unlawfully, many undocumented Latino individuals have likely been dually at risk of experiencing immigration enforcement and contracting COVID-19. These policies, combined with the pandemic, place Latino children and families at risk of family separation and negative health outcomes. Latino mixed status families (family members have different immigration status) often live isolated, almost hidden in their homes, reluctant to participate in civic life due to fear of increased immigration enforcement and forced family separations. An unstable U.S. economy set the stage for greater health disparities and inequities for Latinos and other immigrants. Despite these challenges to health and mortality, Latinos retain their commitment and cultural values in caring for extended family.

There has been a historic lack of culturally appropriate services for Latino grandfamilies. The supports and services that do exist often depend on whether the children are in the legal custody of the child welfare system. This absence of support has become more apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic in which health, environmental, economic, and health care disparities, social prejudice and discrimination have become more exacerbated.

The toolkit offers resources for child welfare agencies, government agencies, and non-profit organizations so that they can better serve Latino grandfamilies. It offers child welfare workers specific tips and techniques for overcoming challenges and increasing effectiveness in working with Latino populations. The toolkit examines some of the unique strengths and challenges of these grandfamilies, which agencies and organizations must recognize in order to provide culturally appropriate services.

While there is an informal tradition of Latino kinship care, factors such as forced family separation due to immigration enforcement, child welfare involvement, incarceration and/or substance use have changed the landscape and needs of these caregivers and children. Given the increasing numbers of Latinos in the U.S., it is urgent to provide appropriate and effective services. We hope that this toolkit provides useful guidance.


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