PHOENIX — Being a foster parent is rewarding, but there can also be a steep learning curve, especially for parents taking care of a child of a different race.
"In working with the foster care system, we realize parents need to have some education around caring for a child of a different race or a different culture," said Sherida McMullan with Jack and Jill Phoenix.
Jack and Jill, an African American community organization, teamed up with the Arizona Department of Child Safety to educate foster parents on one of the most noticeable aspects of their child's life: their hair.
While it may sound basic, when it comes to the self-esteem of a child, having your hair done correctly matters.
"How do we ensure that the full child feels like they can bring their best selves to school, when they go to events, and hair is a big piece of that," McMullan said.
As part of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Jack and Jill hosted a webinar on how to properly style and keep Black hair healthy.
The response was tremendous, with more than 125 foster families joining in, many of them submitting questions they might otherwise be hesitant to ask. They were very basic -- on combs, shampoos, and how to protect hair if they want to swim.
From braids to fades to afro cuts, stylist Shashawna Davis with Melinda's Style Boutique in Phoenix was on hand to demonstrate and reassure families you don't have to be perfect to parent.
"We're all unique, every child is different, so some of it will be trial and error," McMullan said.
The stylist created a YouTube channel as a permanent resource for parents, and Jack and Jill put together hair care kits, with the oils, conditioners, and tools to get parents started.
Louis Williams is the owner of Lolo's Hair Fashion and Accessories.
"We package the product so they can be ready to mail out," she said during a shipping day at her South Phoenix store. Jack and Jill chose her shop to provide the products to go into the hair kits for foster families. The kits were shipped to dozens of families from Phoenix to Flagstaff.
The hair kits range in price from $25 to $40 and foster families have purchased some $1,800 worth of products thus far. It's a welcome boost for a Black-owned business, especially during a pandemic.
"Well, it's a blessing to be a part of this" Williams said.
The Department of Child Safety on hand as some 60 kits went out on this day.
"There is such a need for this type of learning and understanding of how to care for hair," said Pam Harris, a spokesperson with the Department of Child Safety said.
"I think this bridges the gap and gives them (foster parents) an opportunity to know that it's OK to ask questions, it's OK to get information or resources around how to care for a child's hair," McMullan added.
The discussions on hair opening the dialog for even more conversations, helping foster parents keep their child connected to their culture.