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'Your culture matters': Textured hair class gives foster families tools to bond and build confidence

With Love, an Oregon nonprofit, teams up with The Curly Hair Studio to teach foster parents how to care for and style textured hair.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Styling your child’s hair in the morning can be, well, a tangled headache. But it can also be a time for connection and confidence building. For foster families, that time in front of the mirror can create those opportunities to bond, but it’s not always that simple.

On the long list of unknowns, many foster parents simply don’t know how to care for and style hair unlike their own.

“When we think about respect and dignity for a culture, it’s one of those things where we want these kids to feel their best,” With Love Founder and President Allie Roth said. “It’s a learning process and we need to create a safe learning environment to ask those questions, versus just hoping you’re getting it right.”

That’s where the nonprofit With Love and Portland area salon The Curly Hair Studio come in.

“There’s a big piece of these kids that are coming into care and we want to make sure they’re feeling respected on all different fronts,” Roth said.

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For the past eight years, With Love has grown, providing resources to foster families caring for children from newborns to age six.  They provide tangible needs, such as clothes and toys. About a year and a half ago, the organization started offering classes too.

“When kids come into care there’s obviously all different types of needs and we want to realize that we’re not the experts, right, but we want to get those tools on the tool belt for these foster parents,” Roth said.

Their first was a class on textured hair with Atoya Bass. She's the owner and founder of The Curly Hair Studio.

“I only cut wavy, curly, coily hair; teach about it, educate about it,” Bass said.

Bass opened her salon because she saw neglect for textured hair in the salon world. Women would come to her with horror stories about curly hair cuts that turned into real-life nightmares.

“Especially with tight, coily textured hair,” Bass said. “There’s a lot of trust issues. People would come to me and say they haven’t had a cut in five years because they didn’t trust anyone.”

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It became her mission to change that, to be a champion for curly and to celebrate and elevate Black beauty.  So, when the opportunity to share her expertise with foster parents came along, she jumped right in.

“I was hooked to that right away,” Bass said.

On Thursday, February 25 Bass’s class is going virtual. She will teach parents the ins and outs of hair care, styling, products and more while also answering their questions via Zoom.

There’s a disproportionate number of white foster parents to children of color who need loving homes while navigating the child welfare system. It’s important for these families to embrace and celebrate who these kids are when they come into a new home.

“For foster parents to be open," Roth said. "I think that’s a big piece of it is saying, 'Your culture matters.' Not being the expert, but saying, 'We’re going to explore this together. We’re going to try to go there together.' I think it’s a really big statement for those kids, showing care.”

“We teach these kids at a young age to value themselves, to be confident with who they are," Bass said. "All of that is just right at the core of it. And I feel like it shows love. It shows love to take that time and take that patience.”

It’s much more than simply getting ready for the day. It’s about confidence and connection with a message that can last a lifetime: you are beautiful inside and out.

“I think at the end of the day everybody, no matter if you’re in foster care or not, that feeling of belonging is so important," Roth said. "I think that having these classes offers that ability to have that belonging to a family. Even if their culture is different, we’re all growing together."

In 2019, there were 3,942 foster homes for the 10,887 children that spend a day or more in care, according to the Oregon 2019 Child Welfare Data Book. There is a critical need for more foster parents in the state. If you are considering becoming a foster parent there is a huge network of nonprofits, community groups and resources to help.

You don’t have to be a full-time foster parent to make a difference. There are opportunities in respite care, volunteering and donating to support organizations.

Here are a few resources to help: With Love, Every Child Oregon, Oregon CASA Network, Project Lemonade, The Family Room, and Oregon Department of Human Services.

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