Issues In Transracial Adoption


- What is Transracial Adoption?

- What Do the Proponents Say Regarding Transracial Adoption?

- What Do the Opponents Say Regarding Transracial Adoption?

- What Are the Laws Governing Transracial Adoption?

What is transracial adoption? Transracial adoption is the placement of infants and children of one race with parents of another race. Black children are more likely to be in foster care than white children, stay in foster care longer, and thus, are more likely to undergo multiple placements. Due to the developmental risks associated with long-term residence in foster care, a few strategies have been attempted to reduce the number of children in the welfare system (Taylor&Thornton, 1996). Transracial adoption is one of the most controversial methods currently being utilized to improve the welfare of black children. Although it is a hot topic, the actual number of transracial adoptions is lower than one might expect. Only one percent of all adoptions in 1987 were transracial adoptions.

Proponents of transracial adoption argue that transracial adoption is a preferable alternative to foster care. In the United States an overwhelming majority of families wishing to adopt a child are white, and about half of the adoptable children in foster care are black (The New Republic, 1994). A simple solution would be to place the black children into white homes, but the controversy over race-mixing has kept thousands of black children in foster care, even though white couples are willing to adopt them. The National Association of Black Social Workers has hindered the transracial adoption process by calling it "cultural genocide" (The New Republic, 1994). Other black groups, such as The National Association for Advancement of Colored People protested the statement and adopted a resolution to support it. The case in favor of transracial adoption comes primarily from empirical studies. Studies have repeatedly found that transracial adoption is a good situation for the children and families (Simon&Altstein, 1996). One study conducted found that children made as successful an adjustment in their adoptive homes as other non-white chidren had in prior studies. It claimed that seventy-seven percent of the children had adjusted successfully. Similar studies have also shown that the foster care system produces adults who are developmentally disabled, socially isolated, highly unemployed, and are over-represented in the homeless population (Taylor&Thornton, 1996).

One of the most complicated areas of transracial adoption concerns issues of identity development. Supporters of transracial adoption claim that black children will not lose their identity if they're adopted by white parents. Group identity is defined as "a bond with a racial group whose members are perceived by themselves and others to have a common origin and culture, and shared activities in which the common origin or culture is an essential ingredient"(Taylor&THornton, 1996). The job of parents in socializing black children involves two areas. The first is regular socialization experiences and practices. The second is providing black children with skills to counter the impact of racial prejudice and discrimination and develop a healthy sense of self as a person of color (Taylor&Thornton, 1996).

Advocates of transracial adoption also argue that adoption provides a permanent loving home for children who would otherwise languish in the out-of-home care system, and that the race of the potential adoptive parent should be irrelevant in a "color blind" society (Courtney, 1997). They believe that what's in the best interest of a black child stuck in the child welfare system is to become part of a nurturing loving family, who will provide stability to the child's life, regardless of whether the adopting family is black or white. Supporters of transracial adoption feel that families wanting to adopt should not be judged on their skin color, but instead on their ability to provide a good home and to be good parents. Otherwise, black children in foster care will not find homes, leaving many of them feeling unwanted.

Opponents of transracial adoption claim that black children will lose their racial identity if they're adopted by white parents. They also claim that black children will lose their cultural, physical, and psychological identity if adopted by parents of another race. The National Association of Black Social Workers is one group opposed to the placement of black children into white homes. This group is opposed to transracial adoption for these reasons: 1)to preserve African-American families and culture; 2)to enable black children to appreciate their origin by living with a family of the same race; 3)to enable black children to learn to cope with racism and learn how to function around it; and 4)to help make it easier for African-American families to adopt.

Many black groups believe that when black children, who have not yet established a sense of racial identity, are adopted into white families, they have diffuculty in coping with prejudice and discrimination. Those without a sense of identity may internalize racist behavior directed toward them, resulting in a variety of negative outcomes, such as psychological distress (The New Republic, 1994). Also, individuals with lower levels of racial identity may become isolated. They may reject their black peers, while at the same time may never acquire full acceptance by their white peers.

In 1972 The National Association of Black Social Workers' president stated "We are opposed to transracial adoption as a solution to permanent placement for black children. We have an ethic, moral, and professional obligation to oppose transracial adoption. We are therefore legally justified in our efforts to protect the rights of black children, black families, and the black community. It is a blatant form of racial and cultural genocide" (Simon&Altstein, 1996). Then, in 1994, The National Association of Black Social Workers restated their position saying that "Transracial adoption should only be condidered after documented evidence of unsuccessful same-race placements have been reviewed and supported by appropriate representatives of the African-American community (Simon&Altstein, 1996).

Black professional groups claim that there is a major "bottleneck" in the placement of black infants and children in black homes because child welfare agencies are staffed primarily by white social workers. They argue that there is institutional racism on the part of white adoption workers. In contrast, there have been large numbers of adoptions of black children into black families when efforts were made by black child welfare agencies.

How can the discrepancy be explained between the great desire to adopt among blacks and the low number of approved black homes for adoption? One suggestion is that blacks have not adopted in high numbers because child welfare agencies have not actively recruited in black communities. Second, there is a historic suspicion of public agencies among blacks. The consequence is that many restrict their own involvement with them. Last, many blacks think that no matter how close they are to fulfilling the established criteria for adoption, the fact may remain that less affluent neighborhoods make the likelihood of their being approved slight.

The opponents of transracial adoption rest essentially on two issues. One, public agencies do not try hard enough to find black families, and the criteria required by these agencies discriminates against black families who cannot meet the standards. Two, white families cannot provide a sense of identity for black children. Transracial adoption is seen as cultural genocide. The arguments against transracial adoption are both ideologically and politically driven. (Simon&Altstein, 1996).

The laws regarding transracial adoption are governed by the same laws as regular adoptions. "Each state has a set of statutes regulating the placement and adoption of children" (Simon&Altstein, 1996). These statutes state that the goal of the adoption law is to serve in the best interests of the child. Most of these statutory statements do not mention race in connection with the adoption process. However, nineteen jurisdictions do refer solely to race in their adoption laws. "Ten of these jurisdictions provide that the race of one or more of the parties directly affected by the adoption is to be included in the petition for adoption or listed as a finding in a court ordered or statute mandated investigation" (Simon&Altstein, 1996). The statutes are silent as to how agencies should use this information in final decisions of adoption. It inadvertently follows that they (the statutes) are a part of a process that surely takes race into consideration.

Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin all prohibit the use of race to deny an adoption or placement. Three states, Arkansas, California, and Minnesota, have laws that specifically require preference to be given to adoption within the same racial group. "The first preference is for a blood relative, the second for a family of the same race as the child, and the last for placement with a family knowledgeable and appreciative of the child's racial or ethnic heritage" (Simon&Altstein, 1996). Analysis of past court rulings indicate that the courts are wiling to allow race to be considered in adoption placements. But, they also show that there is no single approach to the legal analysis of the consideration of race in adoption. It is certain that the use of race as the only reason to make or break an adoption placement is condemned under any approach.

Maureen McManus


1 "African-American Leadership Group Condemns Racist Adoption Practices." Project 21

2 "All in the Family." The New Republic, January 24, 1994, pp6-7.

3 Christ, Fran. "When Whites Adopt Blacks." PLAN Preadoption Course, May 1990, pp.1-3.

4 Courtney, Mark, "The Politics and Realities of Transracial Adoption." Child Welfare, Nov/Dec 1997, vLXXVI n6, pp.749-773.

5 Simon, Rita and Altstein, Howard, "The Case for Transracial Adoption." Children and Youth Services Review, 1996, v18 n1/2, pp.5-12.

6 Taylor, Robert and Thornton, Michael, "Child Welfare and Transracial Adoption." Journal of Black Psychology, May 1996, v22 n2, pp.282-291.