CLINTON -- For children entering the foster care system, showing up at a stranger's house can be a scary situation.
For the past three years, Lourdes Nava and her husband have tried to ease those fears, opening their home to Latino children in foster care.
"All they need is someone to share their love with them," Nava said. "More than anything, these children just need a little stability."
The Navas are one of a few Latino families in the state participating in the foster care program. The Utah Foster Care Foundation is looking for more Latinos willing to open their homes to children.
"It really helps the kids when they move into similar homes, backgrounds, languages," Utah Foster Care Foundation Recruiter Christina Kelly LeCluyse said.
About 26 percent of children in the foster care system are Latino, with many coming from homes with parental drug abuse and domestic violence.
Nava has seen firsthand how the cultural connection helps the kids settle into the new situation.
Just having the same foods helps many of the children become more comfortable.
"It is so satisfying to see them put something in their mouths that they know and enjoy," Nava said.
The difficulties finding Latino families is not necessarily for lack of interest. LaCluyse said most Latinos are unaware of the program.
Foster care does not exist in Latin America. Most children in such situations go to a relative or end up in an orphanage.
When Latinos do know of the program, they are receptive to taking children into their homes.
"When I ask them why they do it," LaCluyse said, "they say it's because the children bring life."
West Jordan resident Ruth Gonzalez said her native Argentina did not have foster care, but she wishes it did. The goal of foster care is to eventually reunite parents with their children.
She also sees the importance of Latino families participating in the program.
"They feel a bit lost, but we talk to them," Gonzalez said, "we explain to them, that things will get better."
Some of the children do not speak English.
"This helps them feel comfortable being around their own language and customs," Gonzalez said.
Yet the number of Latino families providing foster care remains small.
Nava began taking in foster children after a relative lost custody of his children. The Navas adopted the children after a lengthy trial period, traveling to and from California.
Now, in addition to her grown biological children and her adopted children, Nava provides a safe place for Latino foster care children for up to a year or as respite for other foster families that have to go out of state.
"For them, it is very important to go somewhere they already know," Nava said.
Nava understands what it is like to be raised by someone else. Her own parents died when she was young. She first lived with her grandparents, but they passed away as well. Different relatives moved into her grandparents house to care for her.
She tries to make sure these children are as comfortable as possible, as they have to be away from their parents.
However, she admits there are many challenges to being a foster parent.
In training, she was told not to get emotionally involved with the children.
"It is hard not to give a child your love and not have them feel like they are your own," Nava said. "They end up being your children. You take them to the dentist, you take them to visit their parents."
At first she refused to take older children, who more often than not have lived through a lot of trauma. But when the child is part of a group of siblings, it is hard to turn one away.
"It doesn't matter what age they are," Nava said, "they need love."
In the end, Nava said, it is about offering a calm and comfortable place.
To be a foster parent, applicants must show they have a stable job. Families receive $400 a month, as well as access to Medicaid for the child.
But it is not about the money, Gonzalez said. It is about the impact she makes in the child's life.
"Even if it is only as big as a grain of sand," Gonzalez said. "We know we did something good for that child's future."
To learn more
The Utah Foster Care Foundation will hold an information night at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at 3340 S. Harrison Blvd., Ogden. There will be another information night at 6 p.m. Oct. 17 at 7631 S. Chapel St., Midvale. Training to participate in foster parenting begins Nov. 5. For more information, visit www.utahfostercare.org or call 877-505-5437.