National Adoption Month offers a designated time to raise awareness that more loving, adoptive families are still needed to raise children and teenagers. It also draws attention to a plethora of typically overlooked matters they face, including having their grooming needs adequately met. Robert Cradle, the founder of Anne Arundel County-based Rob’s Barbershop Community Foundation, is bridging the gap to support foster youth and prospective adoptive families through meeting African American and biracial children’s hair care needs. The visionary thought of providing free training and relevant supplies for local adults who are caring for them. 

   Cradle pointed out that youth are often being placed in homes with Caucasian parents. Enhancing self-esteem, and supporting racial identity, dovetails with meeting diverse hair care needs. However, transracial adoptions address the lack of homes for youth of color who are often in dire need of caring environments.

   “We know that teenagers, Black/African-American, and Native American children of any age are in care longer and are less likely to be adopted compared with white and Hispanic children. As of September 30, 2019, the number of children and youth waiting for adoption was over 120,000. Of those children, 24,648 (20 percent) were between the ages of 13 and 17, and 6,000 (nearly 25 percent) of those teenagers were Black/African American or Native American,” Aysha E. Schomburg, associate commissioner at the Children’s Bureau stated on the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ website.

   Schomburg provided information about this year’s National Adoption Month campaign, while also mentioning the current National Adoption Month campaign’s focus on finding the right adoptive placement for teens.

   Service providers like Cradle are essential in helping to foster cultural competency while building new families to assist them. He is well known for managing projects which make grooming services accessible to target populations who have barriers to regular hygienic care. Cradle has set up full-service barber shops or case management services in transitional shelters, Title 1 schools, universities, and even pet shelters. Projects often consist of installing barber and beauty salons in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Delaware.

   During the pandemic, Cradle decided to take his nearly 21 years of experience leading his foundation to serve prospective adoptive parents and foster youth virtually in Anne Arundel, Frederick, and Howard counties by resurrecting one of his older concepts. Utilizing Zoom has allowed Cradle to train foster and prospective adoptive parents in everything from basic hair cutting for male and female youth to cornrowing skills, shampooing, and hair type analysis. Learning correct product selection is another topic on the list of what is covered.

   “I realized that a lot of foster parents, adoptive parents, kinship care parents, probably have children of a different race in their homes, and there’s probably going to be some kind of barrier there…when it comes to (meeting haircare) grooming (needs for) these children,” Cradle said, while mentioning he obtained estimations on how many of them likely lacked knowledge and grooming skills.  

   Approximately 65% of adults surveyed in previous years needed help. Additionally, most hair shops were shut down at the height of the pandemic. The need for providing hair care guidance to children increased.

   “It’s a cultural learning experience for the parent most of the time, and so I feel like I’m opening  up the door to the world of a child that probably needs to be understood, not only racially, but emotionally,” Cradle said. “You can watch a movie. You can go out to eat. But when you’re shampooing someone’s hair, (or) you’re braiding someone’s hair, that’s a different bond.”

   It is imperative to note that foster and adoptive parents of the same race may need haircare grooming assistance, too. A Baltimore County resident, Dina Brown, took advantage of Rob’s Barbershop Community Foundation’s free, in-person haircare training for youth as pandemic restrictions have improved. Brown explained that she is a foster mother and future adoptive parent who is caring for a boy and a girl.

   “I did get a chance to get some hair cutting lessons from Mr. Rob, and I was able to watch one of the other barbers in the shop giving someone a haircut,” Brown said.

   She also learned how to cornrow and create flat twists. Free supplies such as an edger, clippers,  cape, mannequin head, brushes, and a hair dryer were given to Brown for the educational opportunity.

    “I think it’s good for any foster parent to be able to learn how to just care for hair in general,” she said.

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