Utah facing shortage of Native American foster parents

May 10, 2022, 6:45 AM | Updated: Jun 22, 2022, 2:25 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — May is National Foster Care Month, and in Utah, there’s a big demand for Native American foster parents.

Utah Foster Care says placing Native American children with Native foster parents can reduce the trauma of being pulled from their home and gives them a sense of cultural identity.

When Vanessa Benally and her husband Herb got married, they knew they wanted to have their own children, and foster.

“In the way (of) the traditional Navajos, you have these huge families,” she said.

The couple has two biological sons and recently adopted twin girls who are Navajo. Now, they’re in the process of adopting the girl’s teenage brother.

Vanessa Benally said the kids have bonded with them because of their Navajo culture.

“One of the things that we’ve been able to do is really bring them to the community within Salt Lake and take them to the Urban Indian Center, take them to powwows,” said Benally.

Under the Indian Child Welfare Act, preference is given to Native American families to foster Native children.

“A lot of it has to do with the generational trauma that has happened throughout the years,” said Benally.

Stephanie Benally, Native American specialist with Utah Foster Care Foundation, said there is a shortage of Native foster parents right now.

“There’s a shortage not only in Utah but across the state and tribal communities,” she said.

There are 108 Native children in their system and only 15 licensed Native foster homes.

“It’s important because it connects the child to their culture and community,” Benally said.

To qualify, one parent must be enrolled in a federally recognized tribe, be a resident of Utah and pass a background check.

Utah Foster Care will provide training and reimbursement. Benally says they receive financial support from the community as well. For example, the Cedar Project program provides cultural support to help kids stay connected to their culture. They recently provided a family financial assistance to hold a cultural ceremony. Those funds also went to a family whose child needed a traditional outfit to compete in a pageant, purchasing the skirt, shirt and moccasins.

There’s also a Wishing Well fund that parents can apply for on behalf of the kids in their care for items not covered by the state.

The process can take months, but Benally said it’s worth it.

“It’s just opening up your hearts, opening up your home,” she said.

If you’re interested in becoming a foster parent, visit utahfostercare.org.

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Utah facing shortage of Native American foster parents