Promoting Same-Race Adoption for Children of Color

By Hollingsworth, Leslie Doty | Social Work, March 1998 | Go to article overview

Promoting Same-Race Adoption for Children of Color


Hollingsworth, Leslie Doty, Social Work


Opponents of policies to protect same-race adoption for children of color assert that it is necessary to lift all restrictions on transracial adoption (alternately referred to as "interracial," "interethnic," or "transethnic" adoption) of the many children of color believed to be "languishing" in foster homes, residential programs, and institutional settings. This article briefly presents the history of the transracial adoption controversy and discusses its current status; counters assertions typically used to oppose same-race adoption policies for children of color; summarizes the positions of several social work organizations regarding adoption and race; and makes recommendations for education, policy, research, and practice.

History of Transracial Adoption

The adoption of orphaned children from other countries by U.S. families began in the 1940s with the end of World War II (Simon & Alstein, 1977). A rise in the number of such adoptions accompanied later wars, including the Korean and Vietnam Wars (Silverman, 1993). In the 1960s, widespread use of artificial birth control, the legalization of abortion, and decreased social stigma associated with bearing a child outside of marriage were accompanied by a substantial decrease in healthy white infants available for adoption. There was, however, no corresponding decrease among African American and other children of color (although foreign countries began to establish rules that limited some adoptions in those countries).

It has been suggested that adoption agencies, feeling the pressure of reduced fee income, found in the availability of children of color an opportunity to increase adoption fees (McRoy, 1989). One writer (Bartholet, 1991) suggested that as the United States became accustomed to children of color from other countries in its communities, it became easier to accept the transracial adoption of African American children. By 1971 transracial adoptions had reached an annual high of 2,574 (Simon & Alstein, 1987). Responding to this increase, a 1972 meeting of the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) ended with a resolution opposing transracial adoption:

Black children belong physically and psychologically and culturally in black families where they can receive the total sense of themselves and develop a sound projection of their future. Only a black family can transmit the emotional and sensitive subtleties of perceptions and reactions essential for a black child's survival in a racist society. Human beings are products of their environment and develop their sense of values, attitudes, and self-concept within their own family structures. Black children in white homes are cut off from the healthy development of themselves as black people. (quoted in McRoy, 1989, p. 150)

In response to that resolution, and to the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 giving tribal courts exclusive jurisdiction over American Indian child custody proceedings, some states established policies and procedures limiting transracial adoption and requiring that serious efforts be made to place children of color with adoptive parents of their own racial or ethnic group. Agencies specializing in same-race placements were established, and many traditional agencies modified their programs in the same direction.

Some parents who had adopted transracially were offended, however, by the NABSW resolution, perceiving it as not based in truth and disagreeing with the assertion that they were not capable of parenting their adoptive children of color adequately (Hermann, 1993). White foster parents began to file legal suits to prevent children of color who were in their care from being placed with same-race adoptive parents and to be allowed to adopt the children themselves (Elias, 1991). Advocates of transracial adoption, some of them transracial adoptive parents themselves (Bartholet, 1991; Mahoney, 1991), began to speak and write publicly in its support and in opposition to same-race protective policies. …

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