By Saira Saim

On Saturday December 5, 2015, the Muslim Community Center (MCC) for Human Services held an important seminar on Child Abuse and Neglect—Need for Foster Parents. The seminar was held at a prominent masjid of Arlington, TX. The event consisted of a great panel of speakers and was followed by a lunch allowing the attendees to socialize and network.

The Muslim Community Center (MCC) for Human Services‘ Muslim Foster Parenting program started with an overview of child abuse and the need for Muslim families to get certified as foster families. Dr. Basheer Ahmed, the Chairman Emeritus of MCC and a practicing psychiatrist, conducted this part of the program. Dr. Ahmed provided insight about the kinds of abuse that happen and how cultural backgrounds play a role in how the situations are handled. He highlighted that in many situations of physical child abuse, it’s a lack of cultural understanding that gets the Child Protective Services involved, whereas, in cases of sexual abuse, incidents are rarely reported. He presented a few cases that occurred in the Dallas/Fort Worth area to shed light on the need for Muslim foster families.

Dr. Ahmed first presented the case of two Albanian children, which took place in 1995. The children were placed in non Muslim foster homes. He said that when the Muslim community found out, they gave overwhelming support which resulted in 50 families signing up for the orientation of Foster family certification. However, he said that due to the strict process of certification, only 15 families came to the second meeting and no families remained by the third meeting. He estimated that the entire DFW area, which has a huge Muslim community, currently has only 10-15 certified foster families.

Another case that Dr. Ahmed highlighted took place a year ago. The children were taken away from the family which caused a huge stir in the community. Over 200 people petitioned in favor of the family and the court was packed with their supporters on the day of the hearing. Susan, Director of CPS of the DFW area, said that they had never seen such an outpour of support from the community in a child abuse case. She said that while it was amazing to see the community step up to help each other, no progress has been made since then, which is unfortunate to say the least. Susan said that being placed in a non Muslim family doesn’t mean that the children’s cultural needs aren’t met. However, it is largely reliant on the host family to be culturally sensitive.

All speakers at the event emphasized that CPS is not the enemy as is largely believed in the Muslim community. Susan said that, ‘the last thing CPS wants to do is take the child out of the home.’ Another speaker said that there is a lack of understanding in the immigrant community about the difference between spanking and abuse. He said that there have been unfortunate cases where refugee families have lost their refugee status due to disciplinary spanking being confused by CPS as abuse. He said that we need to educate the community about how to maintain their home rules while adhering to the laws of the United States. A community leader echoed this sentiment stating that in 99.9% of such cases the abuse occurs because of poor judgement not intention. He said that over the past 20+ years of his involvement with CPS, he has seen them be a source of help to families in need making sure that they have good food to eat and a proper place to live. Their job is to protect the children and prevent more harm from happening to them rather than break families apart.

Steps to get a foster care license were briefly overviewed by Shantique, a representative from Strawberry Creek Services which is a local Child Placement Agency. Shantique explained some of the required trainings that the agency provides to families as well as the process of a home study, in which the entire family is interviewed to see if they are fit to host foster children.
The Child Abuse awareness event was a huge effort by MCC to raise awareness on the subject of child abuse and what we can do as a community to help in such situations. The panelists talked in great detail about what the community needs at this time and why it is important to have muslim foster families in the area.

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