Utah senator, nonprofit group call on Hispanic and Latino families to foster children

SALT LAKE CITY -- After recently becoming empty nesters, Lorena Zealya and her husband welcomed three Latino foster kids, ages 5, 8 and 10, into their home this past July.

"They are adjusting very well to the routine, to our house, and they are doing so well," Zealya said.

However, the Zealya's story is uncommon. In Utah, more than one in five children in foster care are from Hispanic/Latino families, but only one in 20 foster families are Hispanic/Latino.

Senator Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, is teaming up with the nonprofit Utah Foster Care for a call to action, asking Hispanic and Latino families to step up and support the children in their community.

That's because research has shown that foster children who are placed with families from the same ethnic background are less likely to feel lonely or depressed and experience behavioral issues.

"There is obviously abuse and neglect involved, so having them go to a place where the language is different, cultural pieces are different, it can be a little more traumatic," Escamilla said.

It's an uphill battle, considering Hispanic and Latinos only make up 13 percent of the population in Utah. As a group they also have the largest fertility rates in the state, leaving them with big families of their own to care for.

"They're probably thinking, 'There is no way I can take care of another child. It's a huge responsibility,'" Escamilla said.

However, the hope is that more Hispanic and Latino families will take advantage of the resources being provided by Utah Foster Care and keep an open mind, especially if they become empty nesters like Lorena Zealya.

"They bring all the noise and laughter," she said of her children. "They are very funny too. I love them."

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