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Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
Sandra Rodiles and her adopted daughter, Ashley, talk about the benefits of being foster parents during a press conference at the Utah Foster Care Foundation offices in Murray Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011.

OREM — Gerardo Rodiles was the youngest of eight children. His wife, Sandra, was the eldest of three. They have strong ties to families and they have very much wanted one of their own.

In one fell swoop, on their very first placement as foster parents, two boys and a girl entered their lives.

It was life-changing for all of them, Gerardo Rodiles said. By the time the children entered their care, their parents had relinquished their rights to them. They had been in two other foster care placements. Jordan, 10, Ashley, 5, and Eddie, 3, were available for adoption and the Rodiles felt they were prepared to be their parents.

"We were finally able to adopt three wonderful children," Gerardo Rodiles said. The Utah Foster Care Foundation provided them with the training and support they needed to "become a family of five."

The Rodiles are somewhat of a rarity in the Utah foster care system. Statewide, just 6 percent of the available pool of foster parents are Latino. Meanwhile, 24 percent of children in foster care are of Latino or Hispanic origin, according to the Utah Division of Child and Family Services. 

The Utah Foster Care Foundation wants to encourage more Latinos to consider becoming foster parents so that children can be placed in homes that help them maintain their cultural identities. Later this month, the foundation will host two "Ask a Latino/Hispanic Foster Parent" nights on Oct. 12 in Ogden and Oct. 17 in Midvale to provide more information about becoming foster parents. 

Christina LeCluyse, foster parent recruiter and trainer for the Utah Foster Care Foundation, said placing foster children with foster parents of like ethnic backgrounds can help the children better cope with the significant life changes they experience when they are removed from their birth homes and placed in the foster care system. It is helpful when parents and children speak the same language, when foster families prepare foods children are familiar with or observe similar traditions.

Gerardo Rodiles agrees.

"For them, it's very important to get acquainted with their backgrounds, what they could accomplish in life, what their parents could give them — what it is to be Latino or to be part of a family of a similar background," he said.

The Rodiles children, for instance, do not speak Spanish. But their parents are teaching them. "And they can learn it very easily," Gerardo Rodiles said. "We're working on that."

The children's adoptions were finalized in June. The children have been aided by therapy. The training offered to the parents by the Utah Foster Care Foundation — every Saturday for six months — has helped them deal with the challenges of instant family.

Sandra Rodiles said foster children need what all children need —  stability, love and the knowledge that their parents are there for them.

"The most important thing now is that they feel protected by parents. They know they are the most important thing in our lives," she said. 

As in any other family, there are good days and bad days. But the Rodiles, after years of wanting to become parents, say they relish their family.

"It's just a beautiful feeling being a family, being able to be there for them and taking care of them. You know you have more to give in life. It's not just us anymore. It's a family you have to raise. It's what we've always wanted," Gerardo Rodiles said. 

Sandra Rodiles added, "I feel like a real mom, finally, after we adopted these three beautiful children. Each day, I've been enjoying being a mom.

"They bring me so much life. I"m so glad to have them with us."

Latino/Hispanic Ask a Foster Parent Night 

• 6:30 p.m., Oct. 12, Utah Foster Care Foundation offices, 3340 S. Harrison Blvd., Suite 200, in Ogden

• 6 p.m., Oct. 17, Midvale Boys & Girls Club, 7631 S. Chapel Street (425 West) in Midvale

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com