Reform the Whole System


June 2, 2008 by multiracialsky

There has been a lot of internet chatter, especially on the blogs I visit, about the newly recommended  changes to the MultiEthnic Placement Act (MEPA). The report, and the myriad of media articles and interviews that followed, have offered few new insights (for me)–but I was grateful to hear that the New York Times article really spoke to the parents in a family I know. They are now looking into moving to a racially diverse community for the sake of their transracially adopted children.

I received several phone calls last week from friends and family members letting me know that National Public Radio was holding a call-in show about transracial adoption. (I caught only a moment of one mother talking about ‘doing her tenth adoption,’ and how her kids were ‘voting on whether they should get a chocolate baby or a vanilla one, or one that was both’. Call-in shows are always dicey on what you’re going to hear, but I had to turn it off after that.) One of my family members listened to the whole show and then wanted to know what I thought about requiring additional training for transracially adopting parents (specifically White parents adopting Black kids out of foster care), since one of the ‘adoption experts’ on NPR said adding training requirements only left more Black kids in foster care longer. Let me be clear: I am all for special/additional training for potential transracially adoptive parents. Kids don’t just need to ‘get out of foster care into adoptive homes’; if they absolutely cannot be placed with anyone in their biological family, children in foster care need to move into permanent families with prepared parents.

Adoptive parenting is more complex than parenting birth children. Transracially adoptive parenting is an additional layer of complexity. White people/parents in particular have not often considered many of the race and racism-related issues that will be crucial to the growth and development of a child of color. If White potential adoptive parents balk at additional training before a Black child is even in their home, is there any reason to believe these same parents will be willing or able to rise to the multiple unforeseen challenges (both related and unrelated to race) that their family will face after their child is home?

Adults who become parents completely on purpose (which includes all non-relative adoptive parents) hold total responsibility to do everything they can upfront (before a child arrives in their family) to prepare for the new experiences this particular child will bring with them. This includes everything about the child, especially things the parent is unfamiliar with: medical conditions, abuse history, health issues, physical or educational disabilities, cultural practices, and–yes–racial differences. Growing up Black in the United States is not the same as growing up White, and White potential adoptive parents must realize that an additional session of training is the very least they can do to begin to educate themselves about the experiences of their soon-to-be child.

The articles I’ve been reading that most interest me speak to the larger issue of why there are so many children in foster care and in need of adoptive families. These articles begin to tackle the huge sticky overlapping topics of racism and poverty–specifically as they relate to adoption and to foster care. Check out the articles and blog posts linked below. There are lot of great thinkers writing right now on all aspects of transracial adoption. I’ve included a key paragraph or two from each piece.

  • Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute Policy Brief on Finding Families for African American Children: The Role of Race and Law in Adoption from Foster Care:

While transracial adoptions can provide much-needed homes for boys and girls who may not otherwise have them, it is important to address the potential challenges in this growing practice in order to best serve everyone involved, especially the children.

In order for children of color to be placed with families who can meet their long-term needs, consideration must be given to needs arising from racial/ethnic differences. Consequently, when workers choose permanent families for children, and when they seek to prepare and support them in addressing the children’s needs, race must be one consideration – such as promoting connection of the child to adults and children from their own racial/ethnic group, developing a positive racial/ethnic identity, and learning to deal with discrimination they may experience. Sound social work practice to accomplish these goals is severely impeded under current federal law and policy.

Minority children adopted into white households face special challenges and white parents need preparation and training for what might lie ahead.

Transracial adoption itself does not produce psychological or other social problems in children, but these children often face major challenges as the only person of color in an all-white environment, trying to cope with being different.

Ironically, one of the most important things white parents of Black children need to understand is the racism that put their children in their arms. To parent a Black child, you must look that racism square in the face, see that you have profited incalculably from it and swear to fight it with all your strength for the rest of your life; to do everything in your power to create a world in which a child such as yours would never again need to end up in arms such as yours.

I encourage all people adopting from foster care to adopt the least adoptable children that they could love unconditionally – children with real special needs, sibling groups (including half siblings), teen children (including very old teens), children with behavioral problems, complex histories, or who have been abused or neglected (even severely), and black boys who are the least picked (regardless of other factors and especially if their complexions are dark) are most in need of homes. I encourage people not to automatically adopt a five year old biracial girls – chances are, if you don’t adopt them someone else will, but the teen black brothers may never get picked if you don’t offer them a home.

All of my white-girl middle-class solutions don’t work across the board. Yes, contraception access is crucial – but it’s not going to stop a teenage girl who wants to get pregnant because for her, it’s the best option. Yes, it’s better for everyone to have health care, wholesome food, and a good education with every opportunity in the world available to them – but that isn’t reality, and until it is, we can’t be blaming individuals who are doing the best they can with all the odds stacked against them.

Children are not objects of privilege that only the rich are entitled to. Women who are good, loving moms but who can’t afford certain luxuries – or even certain basics – don’t deserve to suffer the burden of our societal failures.

We/they/all of us need to look at the underlying reasons why children are parent-less and maybe that preventative part makes us overwhelmed. We might feel we can’t eliminate poverty, or war. We can’t control natural disasters. We aren’t able to cure AIDS. We haven’t gotten rid of chemical dependency or mental illnesses. But we can take in a child – that much we can do.

  • Multi-Ethnic Placement Act(MEPA): full text, including the InterEthnic provision of 1996, MEPA Internal Evaluation Instrument, and Protection from Racial Discrimination in Adoption and Foster Care

One thought on “Reform the Whole System

  1. […] stating clearly what I feel or believe about this race/adoption thing. So I found somebody who did better. Where I work, we refer to parents like this as the ones who “get […]

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