Promoting same-race adoption for children of color.

Author:Hollingsworth, Leslie Doty

Opponents of policies to protect same-race adoption for children of color assert that it is necessary to lift all restrictions on transracial adoption (alternately referred to as "interracial," "interethnic," or "transethnic" adoption) of the many children of color believed to be "languishing" in foster homes, residential programs, and institutional settings. This article briefly presents the history of the transracial adoption controversy and discusses its current status; counters assertions typically used to oppose same-race adoption policies for children of color; summarizes the positions of several social work organizations regarding adoption and race; and makes recommendations for education, policy, research, and practice.

History of Transracial Adoption

The adoption of orphaned children from other countries by U.S. families began in the 1940s with the end of World War II (Simon & Alstein, 1977). A rise in the number of such adoptions accompanied later wars, including the Korean and Vietnam Wars (Silverman, 1993). In the 1960s, widespread use of artificial birth control, the legalization of abortion, and decreased social stigma associated with bearing a child outside of marriage were accompanied by a substantial decrease in healthy white infants available for adoption. There was, however, no corresponding decrease among African American and other children of color (although foreign countries began to establish rules that limited some adoptions in those countries).

It has been suggested that adoption agencies, feeling the pressure of reduced fee income, found in the availability of children of color an opportunity to increase adoption fees (McRoy, 1989). One writer (Bartholet, 1991) suggested that as the United States became accustomed to children of color from other countries in its communities, it became easier to accept the transracial adoption of African American children. By 1971 transracial adoptions had reached an annual high of 2,574 (Simon & Alstein, 1987). Responding to this increase, a 1972 meeting of the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) ended with a resolution opposing transracial adoption:

Black children belong physically and psychologically and culturally in black families where they can receive the total sense of themselves and develop a sound projection of their future. Only a black family can transmit the emotional and sensitive subtleties of perceptions and reactions essential for a black child's survival in a racist society. Human beings are products of their environment and develop their sense of values, attitudes, and self-concept within their own family structures. Black children in white homes are cut off from the healthy development of themselves as black people. (quoted in McRoy, 1989, p. 150)

In response to that resolution, and to the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 giving tribal courts exclusive jurisdiction over American Indian child custody proceedings, some states established policies and procedures limiting transracial adoption and requiring that serious efforts be made to place children of color with adoptive parents of their own racial or ethnic group. Agencies specializing in same-race placements were established, and many traditional agencies modified their programs in the same direction.

Some parents who had adopted transracially were offended, however, by the NABSW resolution, perceiving it as not based in truth and disagreeing with the assertion that they were not capable of parenting their adoptive children of color adequately (Hermann, 1993). White foster parents began to file legal suits to prevent children of color who were in their care from being placed with same-race adoptive parents and to be allowed to adopt the children themselves (Elias, 1991). Advocates of transracial adoption, some of them transracial adoptive parents themselves (Bartholet, 1991; Mahoney, 1991), began to speak and write publicly in its support and in opposition to same-race protective policies. Criticism of protective policies for same-race adoption has included the following assertions:

* that same-race placement policies result in retention of children in foster care for longer than necessary, which may result in delay or denial of placement for children of color and therefore in long-term harm

* that there is no systematic recruitment of white parents to correspond to that of families of color, and therefore families of color are being given unfair advantage

* that same-race policies give families of color an edge in receipt of adoption subsidies, because children of color (whom same-race parents adopt) are eligible for such subsidies by nature of their "special- needs" status

* that agencies apply differential screening criteria to prospective black parents than to prospective white families (such as socioeconomic status, age, and marital status requirements), even though these have not been ruled out as viable criteria for selection

* that empirical studies have been biased toward studying the negative aspects of transracial adoption

* that in spite of such biases, studies have failed to document a negative effect of transracial adoption in areas such as general adjustment and self-esteem and, in some instances, have indicated a possible benefit with regard to the transracial adoptee's ability to get along with and in a white world

* that there is no empirical support for the contention that parents of color do a better job at socializing their children ethnically

* that racial matching policies are in conflict with antidiscrimination legislation, such as the U.S. Constitution and Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Bartholet, 1991; Mahoney, 1991; National Coalition to End Racism in America's Child Care System, cited in McRoy, 1994).

A result of the opposition to same-race policies has been that "states have begun to reassess their policies which include race as a viable consideration in placement decision making" (National Coalition to End Racism in America's Child Care System, cited in McRoy, 1994). Subsequently, transracial adoptions began to increase in the early 1980s (McRoy, 1989). Bill Pierce, president of the National Council for Adoption, estimated that 12,000 children were transracially adopted in 1992 (Richman, 1993). Accurate national data on the numbers of transracial and same-race adoptions are not available because after 1971 the federal government no longer required states to maintain and report such data.

On December 22, 1995, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published final rules implementing the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System, a mandatory system of data collection on all children covered by Title IV-B of the Social Security Act, Section 427 ("Foster Care," 1997). Included are rules requiring states to collect data on all adopted children who were placed by the state child welfare agency or by private agencies under contract with the public child welfare agency. However, national adoption data are not yet available.

The recent increase in transracial adoptions has been influenced by a trend among child welfare agencies toward greater flexibility in eligibility to adopt. Such changes have included less rigidity regarding age, income, housing, family composition, and infertility examination requirements; attempts to make application procedures and agency locations and hours more convenient for prospective adopters; less emphasis on the need for matching the characteristics of child and parent (which may have facilitated same-race placements); a willingness to select single parents or those who already have birth or adopted children; openness to adoption by foster parents, caretakers, and relatives of the child; use of adoption resource exchanges; use of active and ongoing recruitment methods, often using the mass media and featuring specific children; and expansion of adoption subsidy programs (Child Welfare League of America, 1988). Although some of these changes may facilitate same-race adoptions, they have also opened the way for increases in transracial adoptions. People interested in adopting transracially typically either originally desired a white infant or preschool child and became willing to adopt a child of a different race or were the child's foster parents (Child Welfare League of America, 1988).

The Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994 prohibited agencies or entities engaged in adoption or foster care placements that receive federal assistance from "categorically deny[ing] to any person the opportunity to become an adoptive or foster parent, solely on the basis of the race, color, or national origin of the adoptive or foster parent or the child" and "from delay[ing] or deny[ing] the placement of a child solely on the basis of race, color, or national origin of the adoptive or foster parent or parents involved" (p. 4056). However, this law allowed "an agency or entity to which [the preceding applied to] consider the cultural, ethnic, or racial background of the child and the capacity of the prospective foster or adoptive parents to meet the needs of a child of this background as one of a number of factors used to determine the best interests of a child" (p. 4056).

Opponents of same-race protective policies criticized the qualification in the Multiethnic Placement Act that allowed race, culture, and ethnicity to be considered at all and the absence of penalties for failure to conform to the requirements of the act. Advocacy efforts with regard to federal and state adoption policy continued, and in August 1996 legislation was signed that modified the Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994. This legislation, which was enacted as a part of the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996, had two sections: Section 1807 (Adoption Assistance), which allowed a tax credit to adoptive families with incomes not exceeding $75,000 of up to $5,000 ($6,000 in the case of children with "special...

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