Changes Urged in Transracial Adoption

AP, May 27, 2008

Several leading child welfare groups Tuesday urged an overhaul of federal laws dealing with transracial adoption, arguing that black children in foster care are ill-served by a “colorblind” approach meant to encourage their adoption by white families.

Recommendations for major changes in the much-debated policy were outlined in a report by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute.

“Color consciousness—not ‘color blindness’—should help to shape policy development,” the report said.

Groups endorsing its proposals included the North American Council on Adoptable Children, the Child Welfare League of America, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and the National Association of Black Social Workers.

At issue is the 1994 Multi-Ethnic Placement Act—and revisions made to it in 1996—governing the adoption of children from foster care.

More minority parents needed?

One part of the law directs state agencies to recruit more adoptive parents of the same race as the children. The new report says this provision hasn’t been adequately enforced and calls for better funded efforts to recruit minority parents.

The more contentious part of the legislation prohibits race from being taken into consideration in most decisions about adoption from foster care. For example, white parents seeking to adopt a black child cannot be required to undergo race-oriented training that differs in any way from training that all prospective adoptive parents receive.

A key recommendation in the new report calls for amending the law so race could be considered as a factor in selecting parents for children from foster care. The change also would allow race-oriented pre-adoption training,

“We tried to assess what was working and what wasn’t, and came to the conclusion that preparing parents who adopt transracially benefits everyone, especially the children,” said Adam Pertman, the Donaldson Institute’s executive director.

“The view that we can be colorblind is a wonderful, idealistic perspective, but we don’t live there,” Pertman [Adam Pertman, the Donaldson Institute’s executive director] said. “If we want to do the best for the kids, we have to look at their realities.”

High number of black children

At the heart of the debate is the fact that the foster care system has a disproportionately high number of black children, and on average they languish there nine months longer than white children before moving to permanent homes. The latest federal figures showed 32 percent of the 510,000 children in foster care were black in 2006, compared to 15 percent of all U.S. children.

Of the black children adopted out of foster care, about 20 percent are adopted by white families. The Donaldson report said current federal law, by stressing color blindness, deters child welfare agencies from assessing families’ readiness to adopt transracially or preparing them for the distinctive challenges they might face.

“There is a higher rate of problems in minority foster children adopted transracially than in-race,” said the report. “All children deserve to be raised in families that respect their cultural heritage.”

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“Black people are significantly poorer than white people and less likely to be in a position to come forward,” Bartholet said. “Recruitment efforts bump up against that fact.”

‘Long overdue’

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Too many white adoptive parents, she said, underestimate the enduring presence of racism in America and don’t get training that would help them raise a black child.

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[Editor’s Note: The report “Finding Families for African American Children: The Role of Race & Law in Adoption From Foster Care,” by Susan Smith, Ruth Mcroy, Madelyn Freundlich, Joe Kroll, can be read on-line, with its executive summary, here.]

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