Refining Transracial Adoption

by May 28, 2008

According to this article, an adoption institute has uncovered serious problems in the process of interracial adoption in America:

The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a non-profit that studies and provides education on adoption, examined national statistics and studies on transracial adoptions — those in which adoptive parents and adopted children are of different races — in the U.S. over the past two decades. In its report, “Finding Families for African American Children,” the institute argues that race should be a factor in adoption placement, and that agencies should be allowed to screen non-black families who want to adopt black children — for their ability to teach self-esteem and defense against racism, and for their level of interaction with other black people. The authors’ recommendations reflect the findings that transracial adoptees report struggling to fit in with their peers, their communities and even with their own families.

According to the institute, the problem has its roots in a 1996 law Congress passed to encourage multiethnic adoptions:

The legislation, which prohibited any adoption agency receiving federal funds from factoring race into decisions on foster care and adoption, was meant to widen the pool of prospective permanent homes for black children. Instead, according to the Donaldson Institute and supporters of its study, the law had a chilling effect on agencies that might want to facilitate transracial adoptions, prohibiting them from preparing white parents for race-specific challenges they might face raising black children. That’s because, under MEPA-IEP, agencies may not create race-based programs; any classes or tools must be given to all parents equally, regardless of ethnicity.

In all three of our family’s multiethnic adoptions, we were surprised by the complete lack of preparation we were given for the challenges of raising a child who didn’t share our race. We thought it was just because we lived in the truly melting-pot state of Hawaii, where almost every family is multiethnic. Now we know it’s because none of the agencies we worked with were even allowed to talk about it.

It’s tempting to idealistically believe that love alone can overcome the challenges of multiethnic adoption, especially for Christians who believe that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, black or white, haole or local. But the truth is that tough situations will come, especially as our kids get older and start to wonder more about their biological roots.

Thousands of kids remain unadopted, so I don’t think the problem of mal-adjusted kids should be answered by limits on transracial adoptions. The answer is to provide adoptive parents with the resources they need to successfully raise kids who look different than them. If government bureaucracies and private agencies can’t do it, maybe the church should. (Uh oh. If I follow the Harbor rule that the person with the idea is probably the person who should do it, that means I need to get busy).