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Growing Need For Spanish-Speaking Foster Parents

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By Jonathan Wilson

The recent boom in the D.C. areas Latino population has led to a rise in the number of foster children who are native Spanish speakers.

That has created new challenges for a local foster placement agency.

Norma Rodriguez is a foster parent treasured by the staff of the Northern Virginia Family Service, one of the largest foster agencies in the area.

Rodriguez, prefers taking in teens, who are more difficult to place than younger children. She speaks Spanish. Rodriguez started taking in children seven years ago.

"I remember thinking to myself this is my last case, my first and last case because it was an adjustment process," says Rodriguez.

Rodriguez has welcomed nine other children into her home since then.

Maggie Wilkinson is the manager of the NVFS' special foster care program. She says she's always looking for more foster parents like Rodriguez.

She says placing a troubled child with a parent who can speak the language, and relate to their culture, can make a big difference.

"It really is great for us when we are able to provide a complete match for a child when they feel comfortable, and they feel like they can clearly communicate, clearly express their needs," she says.

But she can't make that kind of match for every child.

She says close to 40 percent of the children she's trying to place are native Spanish speakers, but only about 25 percent of her foster parents speak the language.

A recent study by the Casey Foundation, the largest non-profit in the country devoted to foster care, shows that the number of Latino children in foster care across the country has more than doubled since the 1980s.

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