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Old 05-27-2008, 05:09 PM   #1
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race and adoption

[q]Should Race Be a Factor in Adoptions?
By Jeninne Lee-St. John

Should adoption agencies discriminate by race, or even by a person's racial sensitivity? According to current U.S. law, no. Since 1996, it has been illegal to consider race when determining whether families are suitable to raise adopted children — the law was intended to increase adoptions of black children, who are disproportionately represented in the foster care system, by making it easier for whites to take them home. But a new study suggests that approach is short-sighted. "Color-blind" adoption, the report contends, allows some white parents — who may not be mentally ready or have the appropriate social tools to parent black children — to raise youngsters, who may, in turn, experience social and psychological problems later in life.

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. The study also says that minority children adopted by white parents are likely to express a desire to be white, and black transracial adoptees have higher rates of behavioral problems than Asian or Native American children adopted transracially; they also exhibit more problems than biracial or white adoptees, or the biological children of adoptive parents.

The problem may be traced, at least in part, to the 1996 Multiethnic Placement Act—Interethnic Adoption Provision (MEPA—IEP), which Congress passed in response to headlines about white parents who wanted to adopt black children but were thwarted by race-matching policies. 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.

That lack of support for transracial adoptive parents doesn't help their children, the study suggests, calling on governmental social service agencies to work with minority- and faith-based organizations, and to provide adoptive families with follow-up support specifically tailored to their situation. "We don't know [exactly] what families will experience once they've adopted a child," says Toni Oliver, a representative for the National Association of Black Social Workers and founder of Roots, an adoption agency in Atlanta. "But there's no way at this point for the family to even come back to the agency and get support after the fact." Even the Jolie-Pitts of the world could use some help, says Oliver, describing one white couple who have adopted both internationally and transracially: "The dad said to me, 'We really thought we had this intercultural thing down. But we didn't understand what race meant until we adopted our black children. That's when we got the stares.'"

Overall, the new study found, regardless of the race of their adoptive parents, black adopted children were no different from other kids in levels of self-esteem. But, the authors write, "black children had a greater sense of racial pride when their parents acknowledged racial identity, moved to integrated neighborhoods, and provided African American role models. Black children whose white parents minimized the importance of racial identity were reluctant to identify themselves racially." But is it necessarily catastrophic to eschew a strong racial identity? Not everybody thinks so. "All adopted children face challenges with being adopted," says R. Richard Banks, a Stanford Law professor and author of The Color of Desire: Fulfilling Adoptive Parents' Racial Preferences through Discriminatory State Action. "To some people, saying we want children to develop a positive identity means a positive racial identity. But it could be a good thing not to have a strong racial identity. The difference is a reflection of our beliefs about what black people should be and what white people should be."

Banks likens the debate over transracial adoption to the question of whether same-sex couples can be suitable parents. "It is true that [the children of gay couples are] more likely to experiment sexually when they're older, and they're less likely to be he-men or girly girls. But you could argue that that's a good thing to not have such starkly defined gender differences. It's a question of what counts as a good sexual identity." Treating parents differently because they want to adopt across racial lines would suggest "there's something abnormal about transracial adoption," says Banks, adding, "mostly these issues reflect our own anxieties about seeing mixed-race families."

Indeed, such anxiety is reflected in the national statistics. Since MEPA-IEP was passed in the mid-1990s, the proportion of transracial adoptions has risen only modestly — from 17.2% in 1996 to 20.1% in 2003. Meanwhile, the government has not compelled agencies to recruit foster and adoptive parents who reflect the ethnic make-up of children in the system, even though the law says they must, so racial disparities have persisted within the family services system. Black children are adopted less frequently and more slowly than kids of any other race. Fifteen percent of U.S. children are black, but they account for nearly a third of children in foster care and a third of those awaiting adoption. White children are five times as likely as to be adopted than children from any minority group, and are adopted out of foster care an average of nine months sooner than black children.

Still, says Adam Pertman, executive director of the Donaldson Institute, we're doing a disservice to children if we try to ignore those racially based anxieties. "We just want to assess whether people are ready to parent a child who's going to face racism," he says. "Helping kids feel comfortable in their own skin leads to better outcomes." That can certainly be accomplished by finding the best parents for the children who need them regardless of race, but also by supporting adoptive families with consideration for their ethnic make-up. Says Pertman: "Nobody's saying black kids shouldn't have white parents, but does anybody really think we live in a fully color-blind society? It's a nice ideal but it's not reality."[/q]
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Old 05-27-2008, 06:44 PM   #2
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There is a Canadian Supreme Court case on point, which was interesting and somewhat infamous (the child's father was an African American NBA player, mother was a white groupie). The father and his wife argued that the boy should be raised in a more black community of North Carolina as opposed to Vancouver.
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Old 05-27-2008, 07:09 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by anitram View Post
There is a Canadian Supreme Court case on point, which was interesting and somewhat infamous (the child's father was an African American NBA player, mother was a white groupie). The father and his wife argued that the boy should be raised in a more black community of North Carolina as opposed to Vancouver.
What was the outcome of the case? I'm assuming they ruled in favour of the mother.

Very interesting article, Irvine. It baffles me that people feel this need to sweep racial differences under the carpet in a misguided attempt to appear non-racist. There are differences between racial cultures, and the way that some of these children will inevitably be treated, and I agree that some extra guidance to different race parents adopting them would be very helpful.

Anecdotally, one of my daughter's best friends since early childhood is a black girl from an interracial marriage, the mother being white, and the father being of Guyanese descent. Like her father, she's quite dark-skinned. Also in their circle of friends is a boy of Cambodian descent, also raised here by his natural family. Our city is quite white, with not that big of a minority population, and it pleases me to no end that both of these kids reported never having experienced racism while growing up. Recently, on a break from university, they were all sitting around discussing their experiences. The girl, who has been raised immersed in her dad's culture, said that once she began taking African Literature classes at University of Toronto, she felt out of place amongst the other black people in the class, feeling like she was not black enough, kind of out of the loop as far as black culture goes, and that up till then, as a black girl, she had never felt any different.

As for the boy, he said that at his university (the same one my daughter attends), that has a very large population of Asian international students, he felt stuck in some strange gray area, where he wasn't white, but that he didn't fit in with some international Asians either, because he's too Canadianized for their liking. The term he used was that they found him "whitewashed," not a real Asian.

So, if both of these kids, having been born and raised with families of their own culture can feel this way, it's not difficult to imagine that children of different-race parents would have even more pronounced experiences as they grow up, and that advice regarding how to incorporate their child's race and culture into the family would be a positive thing.
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Old 05-27-2008, 08:17 PM   #4
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What was the outcome of the case? I'm assuming they ruled in favour of the mother.
They did. They held that in custody cases, race may be a factor, but it is not in itself determinative.

Interestingly enough, after the ruling came out, the father ceased having all contact with the boy, and also stopped paying child support. As far as I remember, he's hundreds of thousands of dollars in arrears.
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