exploring identity


Exploring identity and cultural heritage with your foster child

Author: Jamie McCreghan  On: Nov 4, 2022  In: Advice for Carers
exploring identity

What’s it like being a foster carer looking after a young person from a different identity or cultural, ethnic or religious background to yourself?

What special considerations should you, as a foster carer, keep in mind while the young person is living with you?

Recently, to mark Black History Month, we published some advice on this topic from Sasha, one of Lika’s supervising social workers. Today, we wanted to share the perspective of a foster carer.

Jacqui has been a foster carer for three years. She is of Jamaican Caribbean heritage. Jacqui has mostly had short term placements, which means she’s welcomed quite a few young people into her home over her fostering career. These young people have come from many different cultures and heritages, including Sierra Leone, Ghanian, Jamaican, Irish and British.

Here’s what she had to say about her experiences.

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cultural heritage
As young people get older, they become more accountable for their behaviours.

Learning about a young person’s identity, heritage and culture

We asked Jacqui what kind of preparation she does to welcome a young person from a different heritage or cultural background into her home.

“Before accepting a placement, It’s always good to know something about the child,so you can prepare and have some information on their cultural background.”

What happens next is really a learning and cultural exchange — a wonderful educational opportunity.

“Listening to the young person when they’re speaking, exchanging ideas and spending quality time together is essential. I also encourage them to speak about their culture and we swap ideas on food, dress . religion etc

I find that by doing things with my young person in a playful manner, it is always fun,and in that way, they don’t feel pressured to join in or to speak about their culture, it then comes out naturally.

Cultural learning opportunities too good to miss

Jacqui said there were some obvious opportunities to learn about each other’s cultural backgrounds, many of which would come up quite organically during the placement. The most obvious of these is around food.

“I had a child of mixed heritage. She had mentioned that she likes food from the Caribbean, but her mother didn’t know how to cook it.. I thought this was a great opportunity for us to learn and teach each other the difference in preparing and making food. While preparing dinner, I would pretend that I needed help and she would come to assist. I would then step back and let her think she is the one preparing the meal. She was so pleased with the result, she offered to cook the following day.

I find that making a young person feel comfortable, wanted and involved in what you’re doing , gives them a real sense of belonging, knowing that someone cares .

She has now learnt how to cook food from the Caribbean and is so proud of herself. I try to inspire my young people to explore and enjoy not only their heritage, but others too.

foster child identity
Cooking together is a great way to share your cultures.

Not that every child will fall in love with your preferred cuisine, but it’s still a learning opportunity.

“My young person came as an emergency placement and had arrived at short notice. She said that she was hungry. I hadn’t stopped to think of the cultural difference, so I had just shared the meal and given it to her, which she didn’t eat. The little girl I had was White British and said she wasn’t too keen on Caribbean food, so I had to prepare sausage and mash, which she said was her favourite. Sometimes, we forget to ask the children their preferences on various things, and this can cause the child to think that their feelings are not being noticed. With this experience, I now ask the young person’s their likes and dislikes before making decisions for them.”

“A friend of mine had just accepted a new placement with her first White British young person. This carer is from Ghana and has always cooked dishes from her own country. She had called me one day to say that her young person would not eat her cooking and she didn’t know what to do. I advised her to first ask the young person what food they like, and if she didn’t know how to cook what was requested. Go on YouTube and invite the young person to show her, or they both could experiment together. Not all placements are a match, but it is useful to learn from one another and use that experience to expand on our learning.”

Jacqui said welcoming a young person from another culture into her home was also an opportunity for her to share her own culture and experiences with them. In doing so, she said, it was important that in a family gathering where everyone is of Black Caribbean heritage that the young person feels comfortable and loved. It’s about the young person feeling part of the family and letting them know that she is also interested in understanding them and their cultural background.

Jacqui also attends venues and events which are mostly White British, speaking with young people about sameness and differences both inside and out. “It’s about getting to know the person before we determine who they are or what they’re going to do.”

Find common areas of interest to share and learn together

One of Jacqui’s favourite pastimes is dancing. She said music, dance and other arts-based activities are also an excellent opportunity to do something together with your young person and learn from each other about your different cultures.

“I like music, so music is always playing at home. I would be dancing sometimes, and my younger person would laugh. I will then say,” in my country, this is how we dance.” After a bit of encouragement and playful banter, I will ask, how do you dance? or say, `I bet you can’t do this? “This is my way of encouraging and most times it works. We will show each other or speak about the differences and why we think individuals do things differently.”

Jacqui says “I enjoy supporting children of all ages, but with primary age children and below I find that they develop more through guided play than when I give instructions” Jacqui finds that “young people learn quicker, especially when we’re doing things together and having fun. I enjoy watching and experiencing the positive changes while they are in my care, which will help them on their journey.”

cultural diversity in foster kids
Arts-based activities, like dancing, are another great opportunity for cross-cultural exchange with your young person.

Religious differences are also a wonderful learning opportunity

The young people who come into foster care come not just from all kinds of different cultures and ethnic heritages, but different religious backgrounds as well. Jacqui’s approach to differing religions is very much aligned to her approach around food and dance.

“My young person whose cultural background is Sierra Leon, she’s also a Muslim

I am a Christian and from Jamaica. Our religion and cultural background are complete opposites. We worship differently, dress and prepare food differently.”

“This experience was good for both of us, and during the placement, we had a better understanding of the differences whilst still maintaining that although there are these differences. We are all human first, regardless of our background, culture, religion.”

“I read some of the Quran, and she read from the Bible. We did compare different wordings and decided that, although it is good to know and learn the difference, we still have to maintain our own identity whilst respecting others”

Another of Jacqui’s young people was Catholic.

“She attended my church which is Pentecostal,” Jacqui said. Her young person didn’t understand why they were singing and dancing so much. “I explained that was how we worship, we are happy, so we play music and sing to thank God, a way of saying thank you.”

“We went to the Catholic church as that is her religion. They spoke mostly about Mary and not Jesus, and there was a lot of incense being burned. As there were things that neither of us knew or understood. Like the incense burning. We looked it up together to give us both an understanding of what it means.”

“Some of my food dishes we made for one another we didn’t like. It was a different experience for both of us. But she said that she had enjoyed going to my church and although she didn’t understand some things that were being preached, she enjoyed the music and dancing, saying it was ‘It’s livelier!’

Jacqui described that “it is not about changing or liking another’s cultural background or their views, it is about learning about each other and coming together as one.”

A celebration of difference

Jacqui also recommends creating learning activities for your young person. One of her favourite things to do with a young person is to print information off the internet, specifically pictures of their country, their dresses, fruits etc. which are cut out and stuck on things, or as an activity to show the young person that she’s willing to learn about them.

“I might print pictures of hijabs and other clothing, and the young person will explain to me why they wear it or who wears it,” Jacqui said.

“I’ve got a little chart in the bedroom where wherever you come from, I’ll get pictures and stick on there with the clothing so you can feel more at home. They might say, ‘Oh, this is what we wear in our country, and this is what it’s like’. We print off pictures of different fruits and we talk about them. Some of them are the same fruits from different countries, but they have different names, so that’s quite interesting for us both to learn from each other.

Jacqui highlighted that “Black History Month is to celebrate diversity, to learn about different cultures and religions. It’s about celebrating the historical non-white figures who made a difference and their contribution to Britain. This also to teach children the broader picture of their country’s background, which wasn’t taught in school. Knowing and learning about not only slavery, but the great achievements that black individuals have made can and will inspire a person of colour to strive to expand on their dreams by looking up to someone positive of the same colour and culture who represents them.” Jacqui said that “minorities can now stay connected to their history and ideas and lessons can be taught to others while learning from each other.”

For more information

If you’re in south or east London and you’re interested in becoming a foster carer, give the helpful team at Lika a call on 020 8667 2111. We’re here to answer all your questions.

We’re in the London boroughs of Croydon, Sutton, Bromley, Merton, Lambeth, Westminster, Wandsworth, Lewisham, Southwark, Islington, Camden, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, City of London, Haringey, Newham, Redbridge, and Barking and Dagenham, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea. 


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