Smith-Sponsored Conference to Examine Impact of Federal Policy on Latino Children and Families
Nationwide, an estimated 500,000 children are in foster care; 40 percent of them will wait three years or more before finding a permanent home. Historically, minority children have lingered twice as long in the foster care system as white children.
Within the last three years, new federal legislation aimed at addressing these concerns -- notably, the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act and the 1996 Interethnic Adoption Provision -- has significantly reorganized the child welfare system, particularly with regard to its involvement with minority children.
"Los Niños de Los Barrios," a conference on October 15 sponsored by the Puerto Rican Association of Community Affairs, based in New York, and the Smith College School for Social Work, will examine government policy and practice as it impacts Latino children and families. The conference will explore the political, social and economic factors that account for Latino children entering the welfare system and set the stage for advocacy to create culturally responsive family interventions and alternatives to foster care which draw on the strengths of Latino families and communities.
The sessions, which are being held in conjunction with Western New England College's bachelor of social work program, will take place 8:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Western New England College's Sleith Hall, Room 100.
A highlight of the conference will be an address at 10 a.m. by Dr. Ruth Zambrana, Enochs Professor of Child Welfare and director of the Center for Child Welfare at George Mason University. Zambrana's speech, "Promoting Latino Family and Child Social Welfare: Development of Community-Based and State Partnerships for Effective Change," will be simulcast from New York and will form the basis of similar conferences being held simultaneously at universities and colleges in Worcester, Mass., five other states and Puerto Rico. Zambrana will address the socio-economic challenges faced by Latinos -- the poorest minority group in the U.S. -- and the implications of this vulnerability for child welfare.
Irene Rodríguez Martin, director of external affairs at the Smith School for Social Work and conference organizer, notes that the conference sites were selected based on their population of Puerto Rican children.
"With more than 66,000 Latino children, Massachusetts ranks fourth in the nation for population, third in the rate of single-parent families, second in the rate of poverty for Latino children and first in Latino children's welfare rates," Rodríguez Martin explains.
"These statistics point to a particular vulnerability among Latino families in our region and our state," she adds, "and should be the rallying point for interventions that support and sustain Latino families.
"Child welfare legislation that speeds a child's movement through the system without addressing the issues that bring such large numbers of Latinos into the system fails to consider culturally appropriate interventions that could support the integration of Latino families," Rodríguez Martin says.
"Likewise, out-of-home placements that do not utilize the strengths of Latino families and communities as an alternative to foster care are not recognizing the positive effects of cultural heritage on children's well-being and emotional development."
In the afternoon, when the focus of the conference turns local, speakers and facilitators will include Sonia Negroni and Felicita Nieves, members of the KidsNet Team of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (1:15 p.m., "The Human Face of Foster Care"); Olga Roche, area director for North Central Massachusetts for the Department of Social Services (2 p.m., "Kinship Care: Cuidando Nuestros Hijos"); Heyda Martínez, psychologist, River Valley Counseling, Holyoke (2 p.m., "Achieving Child Safety and Permanency with Chemically Involved Families"); and Nelson Merced, district director, Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, Boston (3 p.m., "Transforming Issues Into Political Action").
In addition to Rodríguez Martin, "Los Niños" planning committee members from western Massachusetts include Miguel Arce, regional director, Massachusetts Department of Mental Retardation; Edwin González, education/training specialist and permanency mediator, Mass Family for Kids; Orlando Isaza, area director, Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance; Betty Medina Lichenstein, director, Enlace de Familias; Marta Martínez, director, Brightside - School Street Counseling, María de Lourdes Mattei, Hampshire College; Luz Mercano, adoption worker, Department of Social Services; Áida Ortíz, clinical social worker, Lawrence, Mass., school system; Idalí Torres, University of Massachusetts; and Carlos Vega, executive director, Nueva Esperanza.
The Smith College School for Social Work, which offers master's and doctoral degrees in social work with a concentration in clinical practice, is one of the oldest and most distinguished schools for clinical social work in the United States.
For more information about the conference or to register, call (413) 585-7950.
October 8, 1999
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