Achieving Same-Race Adoptive Placements for African American Children: Culturally Sensitive Practice Approaches

By McRoy, Ruth G.; Oglesby, Zena et al. | Child Welfare, January/February 1997 | Go to article overview

Achieving Same-Race Adoptive Placements for African American Children: Culturally Sensitive Practice Approaches


McRoy, Ruth G., Oglesby, Zena, Grape, Helen, Child Welfare


A disproportionately large number of African American children are entering the public child welfare system, and many are in need of planning for adoptive placement. Although agencies specializing in adoption of minority children have been extremely successful in achieving same-race adoptive placements for African American children, funding and support for some of these initiatives have been withheld due to federal and state legislation designed to limit the consideration of race as a major factor in the selection of adoptive families. This article analyzes these issues, and describes successful placement practices used by a private agency in California and a public agency in Texas. Suggestions for culturally competent practice are elaborated.

Recent statistics on out-of-home care reveal that a growing number of children are entering care and a disproportionately high number of these children are African American. The number of children in out-of-home care has increased from about 273,000 in the mid-1980s to almost 500,000 in 1992 [Children's Defense Fund 1994]. The proportion of all children of color in the out-of-home care system is three times their proportion in the nation's population [McKenzie 1993]. For example, in states such as New Jersey, Maryland, Louisiana, and Delaware, over 50% of the children in care are African American. Although accurate statistics on children in care needing adoptive placements are unavailable, experts estimate that between 30,000 and 50,000 U.S. children are legally free for adoption [North American Council on Adoptable Children 1995]. About 40% of these children are African American; in major urban areas like New York City and Detroit, about 80% of the children needing adoptive placement are African American [McKenzie 1993; Jones 1993].

Reasons for Out-of-Home Placements

Several factors account for the growing number of placements in out-of home care and the increased need for adoptive families, including parental drug use, poverty, and increased reporting of abuse and neglect. Although the majority of the children in care are at least of school age, the out-of-home care population is beginning to include a larger number of infants, primarily due to parental substance abuse. According to the Children's Defense Fund [1992], more than 4.5 million women of childbearing age use illegal drugs and only 14% of those who need treatment receive it.

African American children represent only 15% of the total U.S. child population, and almost 44% of all African American children live in poverty [Children's Defense Fund 1996]. A rise in reports of suspected and actual child abuse and/or neglect is a frequent concomitant of poverty. In fact, poverty is the greatest predictor of the removal of children of any age from their biological parents and placement in out-of-home care [Pelton 1989; Lindsey 1991]. As African American children are disproportionately poor, they are more likely to be removed from their homes and placed in out-of-home care.

Other factors such as lack of understanding on the part of protective service workers of cultural differences and variations in child rearing have sometimes led to African American children being separated from their families and placed in out-ofhome care [Stehno 1982; Leashore et al. 1991]. In one state, one in 20 African American infants born in one year were placed in out-of-home care, compared with one in 100 Caucasian infants in the state [Morton 1993]. After entering the child welfare system, African American children are also more likely to remain in care longer than Caucasian children and receive fewer services, and their families may have fewer contacts with workers [Close 1983]. According to Stehno [1990], practitioners in New York were found to be less likely to arrange visits between African American families and their children than they were for their Caucasian counterparts.

Once many of these African American children become legally free for adoption, traditional public and private agencies often find it difficult to recruit suitable adoptive families for them. …

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