National American Indian Month, Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Latino History Month, and Asian History Month were all created to highlight how various minority groups have impacted the history and successof The United States of America. One month does not seem adequate to recognize and reflect on centuries of impact. However, we can all appreciate the opportunity to learn and gain new understanding.
February is here; the month designated to remember the struggles and celebrate the triumphs, contributions and rich history of African American culture. While reflecting on Black history, the concept of belonging comes to my mind. The Cornell University Office of Diversity and Inclusion defines belonging as, “… the feeling of security and support when there is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity for a member of a certain group.”
A sense of belonging is a basic human need. The children that we serve, like all human beings, need to feel closely connected to others through caring, affectionate bonds in safe and close relationships. Relational belonging has a strong impact on a child’s overall cognition, emotions and behavior. The absence of belonging produces behavioral, social and emotional challenges. Many children living in Group Care or Foster Care may have a high degree of relational disconnect due to past disruptions in caregiving or the trauma surrounding the circumstances that led to them being displaced from their family of origin. Studies show that this level of disconnect is even greater for the children who represent non-white ethnicities.
The identity label transracial refers to a person whose racial identity or racial expression differs from his or her race of birth. It is common for transracial children to grow up isolated from their race of origin. To assist in managing feelings of grief and loss or to help heal the trauma associated with separation, it is important to maintain connections with birth family members, when possible.
Remaining connected to family provides opportunities for the child to experience and learn cultural norms andhelps in the development of a strong and secure identity. If the birth family is not a safe or feasible option, then we, as a ministry, are charged with being intentional to make other connections that help develop this identity —support might include past or present neighbors, teachers, coaches, counselors or friends.
Black History Month is a great time to start remembering, reflecting and teaching. We can support our transracial children by prioritizing representation of their culture both inside and outside of the home. If you’re not sure where to start, I’d suggest watching movies or documentaries, reading books and playing with toys and dolls that resemble their skin color and hair texture. Attending events, festivals, church services and interacting with individuals from other cultures is also important to the development of the whole child. When we foster conversations and celebrate the differences within our homes and ministry, we are helping to create a place of belonging on earth that resembles the unity and beauty of heaven.
When we accepted the first non-white child into our care at WinShape Homes, our homes and ministry became a multicultural entity. Therefore, it is essential that our team of house parents, counselors, case managers and other professionals learn and grow to understand other cultures. As we grow, we can also seek opportunities to introduce people, experiences, and elements of culture into the homes, services and experiences that we offer.
As professionals serving vulnerable children, we have a responsibility to ensure that we model and provide a sense of security through relational connection and belonging. We have an opportunity to bring awareness to the benefits that come from connecting to others. Building relational permanency does not replace family members, nor does it require cutting ties. It does, however, refer to adding to the “family” of safe individuals who will care for and support our children through the many seasons of their lives.
Romans 15:7 reads, “Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.” In this fifteen chapter of Romans, Paul encourages Christians to welcome others as Christ has welcomed them. Fostering a sense of belonging for all children within our ministry will create a harmony and unity that pleases God. A sense of belonging will help provide the security and self-assuredness needed to achieve potential in life.
As service professionals, may we accept, include and help to build a strong identity in the lives of the children that we serve. As we move forward, may we recognize that God has worked in history to create a diverse land. May we acknowledge our children and fellow ministry peers as our brothers and sisters in Christ. May we accept that God has broken down every division that separates us. May we walk in victory knowing that if we belong to Jesus, we belong — together.