ʻO ke kaumaha loa no kēia mau keiki, ʻaʻole lākou i koho, na kekahi i koho hewa. ʻAʻole he kanaka ʻino nā mākuahine, nā ʻohana hānau, akā ua koho hewa, a ʻo ka hopena na ke keiki. Nui ka pilikia ma ke kula. Nui kona pilikia me kāna hana, behaviour issues. Paʻakikī kona ola, akā ʻaʻole nāna ka hewa. Pono e noʻonoʻo, ʻaʻole nāna i koho, akā nāna ka hopena.
Children in Hawaiʻi’s foster care system are among the most vulnerable in our society and providing services and support for them is a never-ending responsibility. For Native Hawaiian children, this responsibility is especially challenging.
According to Kayle Perez, Administrator at the Hawai’i Department of Health Child Welfare Services Branch, “The number of Native Hawaiian children in foster care has reached almost 50%. Looking at the Native Hawaiian population in Hawaiʻi, they donʻt make up 50%. Itʻs complex in a way where weʻre trying to understand it and weʻre trying to take a look at what can we do to adress the disproportionality.
Opinions vary on the causes for overrepresentation, but this problem cannot be fixed in isolation. The number of Native Hawaiian children in the foster care system is a symptom of the socioeconomic health of Native Hawaiians as a whole, which ranks worst in nearly every category of any ethnic group in Hawaiʻi.
Healing the systemic marginalization of Native Hawaiians is a generational effort well underway, with the Hawaiian community taking the lead to improve our own situation. As with other areas of need, Hawaiians are stepping up and taking action, including the traditional kuleana, or responsibility, of mālama keiki by taking in and caring for Hawaiian foster children.
Aloha, ʻo Kauʻi Keola koʻu inoa, no Halawa mai au. ‘O kuʻu kāne ʻo Rocco Keola. He 12 aʻu keiki i kēia lā. ʻŌlelo au i kēia lā no ka mea, e loli koke ia kekahi o nā manawa.
Aloha, I am Kauʻi Keola, my husband is Rocco Keola and today I have 12 children. I say today because that number fluctuates pretty quickly.
Keola explained, “Thereʻs a lot of Hawaiian children out there. They need a place to go, they need a place to be loved, they need to feel safe and weʻre able to help them. We donʻt have a lot of things, we have lots of love. God sends them to our door so we open our door.”
“Being Hawaiian we have a strong cultural base. Just growing up in my own family our cousins would come and live with us for a little while. Thatʻs just the way we were raised and that was hānai, that was not fostering, none of them were adopted, they just came for the time that they needed to be with us and then they went back home to their own families.”
“We have been fostering for maybe 17 or 18 years now. We had about 55 children that came through our home. Fostering isn’t for everyone, it is for us, it is for some of our friends, but it’s not for everyone.”
“Most of the children unfortunately have some kind of exposure with drugs, so they have learning difficulties, they have behavioral issues and you just have to learn to work with each child and meet that child’s needs. A lot of them have sensory disorders so you notice our house is very loud. They don’t have volume control. Everything is loud, everything is hard and you just, you just learn to live with it. You know weʻre a loud house but it makes it more fun.”
“Everyone works together to make our family work cause we have to be a team. No one can do this by themself. I donʻt even do this by myself, without my husband and the two girls, thereʻs no way I could do this, we all have to work together. That’s their way of learning that concept, you know lōkahi, we all have to help each other and have each other’s back,” explained Keola.
The Keola family is unique in the number of foster keiki they have taken in as their own. Any ʻOhana interested in fostering children is provided assistance from various community programs that offer support services, such as Partners in Developmentʻs Hui Hoʻomalu Program.
Stephanie Helbush, Community Relations Manager for the Hui Hoʻomalu Program, said “Our mission is to recruit, train, asses families who want to provide foster care for children in the child welfare services system and to also provide support services for those families.”
“Many times we talk about the children in care and we say, you know we need to be invested, because these are the kids that are going to be your neighbors, your co-workers. Their children will go to school with your children. Itʻs really everyoneʻs kuleana to think about this issue and see how we can be involved,” said Helbush
Keola explained, “We understand as a foster parent that we are there for the time being when the child needs to be with us until parents do their services and they have everying ready for the child to return home. The goal is always reunification. When they come into my home is to treat them as my own child and to love them and we do, but then when they have to go, itʻs hard, itʻs really hard.”
“The rewards are tremendous you know you canʻt count the rewards. you canʻt measure the love that you get back. You know a lot of people tell us oh these kids are so lucky that they have you, but no weʻre lucky that the kids have come into our life because they bring us joy, they bring us love, they have expanded our family,“ Keola reflected.