How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Seeing none, Korean-American community works to recruit foster parents

Korean Foster Parents

Korean American Family Services

Korean American Family Services is among the community organizations working with the county to recruit Korean foster parents. Pictured is a scene from a Korean-language public service announcement.

Recruiting foster parents in Los Angeles County is tough. Finding Asian caregivers, particularly Koreans, even more so.

Not one of the thousands of foster homes in Los Angeles County is Korean-speaking — which can make a stressful situation even worse for a foster child who only knows that language.

"Being in a non-Korean home is just shocking to them," said Mike Oh, a county social worker who works with Asian-American foster children. "We’ve had a lot of calls from the foster parents saying that the child appears to be traumatized, and not eating, not sleeping.”

A new partnership between the county's Department of Family and Child Services and Korean organizations is amping up outreach to the county's Korean speakers.

For the next six months, a 30-second PSA will air several times a day on the Korean-language channel LA 18.  A hotline about foster care will be manned by bilingual speakers. And Korean community groups plan to hold information sessions at places such as Korean churches.

Korean Foster Family Initiative

DCFS will provide support to recruits, who will need to get licensed. The hope is that if this campaign is successful, it can be replicated with other Asian and Pacific Islander groups.

"Every day we get about eight or 10 calls from the Asian-Pacific community," said DCFS Director Philip Browning during the campaign's launch event in downtown L.A. Wednesday.  "We need your help to place these children into loving homes, even if it's for a temporary period."

The agency estimates that the number of Asian children in the county foster system stands at around 800.

Connie Chung Joe, executive director of Korean American Family Services, which spearheaded this initiative, said there is a lack of awareness about foster care in the community.

"People have misbeliefs that you need to have lot of money, you need a home, somehow your immigration status could get impacted," Joe said. "There’s a lot of distrust working with the government amongst immigrant communities."

But Oh, the social worker, urged Korean families to reconsider. He says too often he's dropped off a Korean child who's bonded with him, if only because he is Korean too.

"They will look at the non-Korean foster parent and then look at me and — literally clinging to my leg –  say, 'Take me with you,’" Oh said.

Maureen Learned of Burbank was at the launch event, also exhorting Asian parents to join the foster care system. Several years ago she fostered a 4-year-old boy, the son of Korean immigrants. It was difficult not understanding his culture.

“If he’d gone straight into a Korean home where he hadn’t lost his language, where he hadn't lost his food, where he hadn't lost his smells, where he hadn't lost the overall community, the TV shows, everything — he could have felt like he could have been himself," she said.

Learned said the family ended up adopting him, and he is settled in now, happy and healthy. But it was a years-long transition that Learned said could have been a lot easier.

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