Is Transracial Adoption Bad for Kids?

Dawn Davenport


Here we go again.  A recent article, Is the modern-day adoption process colorblind?,  brings up the argument that seems to never die–Is transracial adoption bad for kids.

Although overall adoptions increased 78 percent from 1996 to 2000, there are many who continue to question whether placing minority children with racially and ethnically diverse foster and adoptive parents is truly beneficial to them. The concern that children adopted by parents of a different race will have trouble identifying with their heritage has been at the center of the debate throughout history.

“The National Association of Black Social Workers has taken a vehement stand against the placement of black children in white homes for any reason,” the group’s “Position Statement on Trans-Racial Adoption” reads. “We affirm the inviolable position of black children in black families where they belong physically, psychologically and culturally in order that they receive the total sense of themselves and develop a sound projection of their future.”

David Watts, a biracial New York social worker who was adopted by white parents, agrees with the organization’s stance, and says that interracial adoptions are not the best option for African-American children because “it’s a bad idea to put a black child in a white home…I think it’s impossible for someone of one culture to teach another culture. You have to live it in order to absorb it.”

What does the research say?

It drives me nuts that we are still having this discussion.  We have had years of good research that show that children adopted by families of another race compare favorable to children adopted by families of the same race. (Grow & Shapiro, 1974; Kim, 1977; McRoy, Zurcher, Lauderdale, & Anderson, 1982, 1984; McRoy & Zurcher, 1983; Simon & Alstein, 1987; Feigelman & Silverman, 1983; Shireman & Johnson, 1986). In a recent meta-analysis, Adoptees Do Not Lack Self-Esteem: A Meta-Analysis of Studies on Self-Esteem of Transracial, International, and Domestic Adoptees (Psychological Bulletin; American Psychological Association 2007, Vol. 133, No. 6, 1067–1083), researchers looked at 18 studies involving more than 2,000 adoptees and found that transracial and same-race adoptees psychological adjustment did not differ.

Research and common sense are aligned with what’s in the best interest of children. The birth family must first have help to heal since it is usually in the child’s interest to be raised by his biological parents. But, let’s face it, this is not always possible; not all parents are capable of parenting and not all families can heal. An adoptive placement—a permanent, real, forever, even-when-you’re-obnoxious home—should be found. The extended family is the first place to look. If that’s not possible, or not in the best interest of the child, then find an adoptive family.

Many factors have to be considered when looking for the best adoptive placement.

Race is one factor amongst many that should be considered when looking for the best adoptive placement. Children need permanence, and they need it as soon as possible after being removed from their biological families. They should not have to wait long periods of time for a same-race family and they should definitely not have to forego having a family because a same-race placement couldn’t be found. We don’t live in a color blind society and transracial families face additional challenges. These challenges are not insurmountable, but the issues of race do have to be addressed. All things being equal, a same-race family is preferable to adopting across racial lines, but unless that can happen quickly, then a family trumps foster care. Period.

James Higgins, one of our online Creating a Family community, is a child advocate, adoptive dad, and critic of the foster care system.  (See my blog There Has Gotta Be a Better Way (Adopting from Foster Care) James raises some provocative points about the above article.

I am so thoroughly DISGUSTED with the article…. Do we live in a post-racial society? HELL NO! But are we STILL having a discussion on whether or not it’s acceptable to have a child of color adopted by a white family? REALLY!? You offer lifetime support and classes for these families, but for anyone to prohibit ANY child of being adopted by a caring and loving family should IMMEDIATELY lose any and all government funding. Yep, I said it….IMMEDIATELY!

Organizations such as the National Association of Black Social Workers are under some sort of delusion that there aren’t 50,000 African-American children waiting to be adopted TODAY. …[L]et me get this right, an African-Amercian child will develop a total sense of themselves and develop a sound projection of their future by growing up in FOSTER CARE!!?!? It’s organizations like this with their hard-line “vehemently” opposed stance that will continue to destroy the lives of children they claim to advocate for… Shameful!

Image credit:  achelms4

23/08/2011 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog, Fostering, Fostering Blog | 30 Comments

30 Responses to Is Transracial Adoption Bad for Kids?

  1. Avatar Charlotte says:

    Proof that blacks can in fact be very racist: “We affirm the inviolable position of black children in black families where they belong physically, psychologically and culturally in order that they receive the total sense of themselves and develop a sound projection of their future.”

    Flip the script and make that a Caucasian ethnicity, and no decent person would even countenance that argument.

  2. Avatar Kristina Grish says:

    this article upsets me on so many levels. i would love to hear what dr. wright would say about this.

  3. Avatar Stephanie Mohr Shank says:

    Sarah…I absolutely agree! I just wish that was more of the focus than trying to do away with transracial adoption!

  4. Avatar Stephanie Mohr Shank says:

    So frustrating!! And, this does not help transracial families at all. How about focusing more on how to support transracial families and kids instead of condemning us. Sheez!

  5. Avatar Paula says:

    What I hate is that people seen to think that waiting in foster care or orphanages for the right race to adopt is sone how exceptable… Just how long are they going to be waiting?? Don’t they know how important stability is for a child and how 6 months is a really long time when your little?
    The whole thing makes me mad, in the uk they had (yes past tense it would seem) a ruling against transracial adoption. But it didn’t really work, they have now changed this. One of the reasons for it not working is there are not enough adoptive parents that fit the required ethnic backgrounds needed. ( this may well be why black adoptive families are not even show white kids as the demand for black families is higher than that of whites)
    Some ethnic groups are not as supportive of adoption as others, hard to generalize but it would appear to be true. Here in Taiwan whites are a minority (of course) but from my time here working with orphanages I can say that foreigners (non Chinese) are more likley to adopt or
    agree to foster than the then what? Leave the kids in the orphanages? I don’t think
    so. They try to promote and educate locals on adoption and yes the younger generation appears to be thinking about adoption in a more positive light than the older. However there is still work to be done and still kids to place.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      One of the arguments against transracial adoption is that so long as there are enough white families to adopt children of color, there is less need to take the steps necessary to recruit more adoptive families of color. I think there is some truth to that argument. But is it fair to make children wait in foster care while we ramp up recruitment. On the other hand, unless there is an urgency of waiting children, will we ramp up recruitment.

  6. Avatar Kristin says:

    “a same-race family is preferable to adopting across racial lines, but unless that can happen quickly, then a family trumps foster care. Period.”…this says it all for me.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Kristin, me too. I would add that we need to step up efforts to recruit families of color to adopt, but kids shouldn’t wait while we do this.

  7. Avatar Mrs. Gamgee says:

    So, do these people who oppose transracial adoption also oppose mixed race marraiges? And children born to those marraiges?

    Doesn’t this seem like we’re taking steps backward?

  8. Avatar Michelle @ Bridge Communications says:

    “we STILL having a discussion on whether or not it’s acceptable to have a child of color adopted by a white family?” This quote is why we still need to have the discussion. We aren’t talking about children being placed across racial lines. We are talking about kids of color being placed with White families. It rarely goes the other way. (some state wards& sib situations.) But I ask all the White birth moms on here if they were even shown profiles of Black families? I bet most the Black birth moms were shown profiles of White families. And how many Black adoptive families ( private adoption) on here were asked if they would adopt a White child and were actually shown to White birth moms. And with some international countries they only will not work with Black Americans. Thus in context, yes we do need to have the discussion.

    Furthermore, many of the studies on transracial adoption in the past were done by non transracial adoptees and the questions asked are now being challenged by adult adoptee researchers who are asking different questions about well being and geting different results.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Michelle, can you share the links to some of the research you have seen that show different adjustment and well being of adult transracial adoptees? Thanks.

  9. Avatar Ray says:

    I always find these arguments about the preservation of “culture” to be interesting. Being white, I have observed that unless you are a member of a religion that is as much culture as theology (like Judaism), then you aren’t really observed as having a distinct culture.

    In my life, I have been exposed to a lot of cultures and absorbed some of the things I liked from many of them. I was especially influenced by the cultural elements I was exposed to living in Singapore. I have no pre-conceived expectations on how I should be, culturally.

    I think this can be a powerful asset for interracial families. Even more so, if they are open minded and willing to investigate new things (not all are).

    I think that a caring, respectful parent who makes it clear they don’t know everything about what it means to be (insert culture/race here), but I’m willing to help you find your answers and experience it with you can go a lot way to creating a child who not only feel like they have a foothold in their race/culture but can see things from other perspectives. I think that’s more important than being firmly rooted in your culture.

    Not to get controversial, but I personally think cultural ‘norms’ are more harmful than good. So the more kids know about other cultures the better, right

  10. Avatar Meredith says:

    Honestly, I never see any changes. They replace folks, they retire folks with full pensions, they shuffle folks around. They pay fines with my tax monies. But no real changes. No real accountability to the tax payers. It is very frustrating.

  11. Avatar Kimberley says:

    Sigh. AGAIN we have to go over this. CHILDREN NEED HOMES. Yes, I understand that it is better for one’s identity to be raised in the culture of their birth–when possible. It is NOT always possible and those who think it is are living in a fantasy world.
    What people fail to see is that there is such a thing as “orphan/foster kid” culture. It is totally different from one’s ethnic culture. Orphan/foster culture sucks, to put it plainly and is not the better option.
    How does growing up in an orphanage, or moving from home to home, help any child develop a sound sense of self? IT DOESN’T.

  12. Avatar Meredith says:

    Basically, our local foster care system is matching folks by race. If there are not enough adoptive parents of a certain race then the foster child waits until there are.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      How sad. I like to think we take three steps forward and only 1-2 steps back, but sometime you’ve got to wonder if there is forward progress at all. I think you said they were cited for these violations. Was there a penalty against them? Have you seen any changes since?

  13. Avatar Meredith says:

    Their official position is that they don’t oppose trans-racial adoption, but they also don’t recommend or encourage trans-racial adoption. We had a social worker that was a member of the National Association of Black Social Workers that did our home-study and they did recommend against trans-racial adoption.

    It is very important to their organization that the adoptive parents be able to protect/nourish the culture of the child they are trying to adoption and not confused the cultural identity of the adoptive child.

    I have no idea what to say about our local state child welfare folks. They seem to violate just about all federal laws as they relate to foster kids. It is very sad.

  14. Avatar Meredith says:

    Sorry Dawn.

    I wish it was true, but our local state child welfare folks (DFCS) just got cited for violating the federal Multiethnic Placement Act(MEPA)and National Association of Black Social Workers are still recommending against trans-racial adoption and are very active in my area.

    I think this issue will is and will be a big problem for many years to come.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Meredith, I interviewed someone from the Nat’l Assoc. of Black SW a number of years ago and I thought that they told me that their current official position was not “against” transracial adoption across the board, but was more pro finding same race families. Perhaps they were telling me what I wanted to hear or maybe I misunderstood or maybe that really is their position. What are you hearing?

  15. Avatar Mike Recant says:

    I believe the article puts the cart before the horse. Interracial adoption is not the bad thing here, it is the orphaning of the children (any race) that is bad. The adoption is only an attempt to fix an already bad circumstance, and yes, it is not a perfect “fix”.

    What gives me heartburn from articles like this is the cultural protectionism and subsequent “judgement” from people who don’t live with this very real contradiction. Not a day goes by I don’t hurt because of what my Chinese daughter lost when we adopted her. Conversely not a day goes by that I don’t rejoice at the opportunities my daughter has now that she would not have had as the daughter in a poor Chinese family. How the hell am I supposed to “balance out” those two feelings?

    Unlike the author of the article, I am not wise enough to know what the “right” thing is, I only know I made my life choice and that I have committed to being responsible for that decision (both the good and the bad aspects) for the rest of my life, and I respect any other adoptive parent who makes the same commitment.

    Signing up for a fairy-tale ending is easy, I wish that fairy-tale endings existed in the real world …

  16. Avatar Debbie says:

    Big sigh. There are so many successful transracial families, so many beloved children…I just can’t believe that this issue continues to be rehashed. Bleck. Transracial adoption adds another layer of complexity to the family dynamic, but it is certainly not a deal breaker. Kids need loving parents and permanent homes. Period.

  17. Avatar Kathleen Nolde-Martin says:

    I thought of something else. Isn’t it interesting that the people who feel that transracial adoption might be bad for the children are not the people adopting children of any race….

  18. Avatar MamaBev says:

    The gift of a home for the child trumps race/national origin, etc. every time! What would the association of black social workers suggest for children of mixed race-wait and see what the kids want to be? Granted some of “white” moms have no idea what to do with kids with black wool-but we can learn. I have learned to live with the Russian influence now for 5 years and have loved every minute of it!

  19. Avatar Kathleen Nolde-Martin says:

    Thank you for being as frustrated by this. I thought I was the only one.

  20. Avatar Sarah says:

    If you read the whole article (not just the inflamatory quotes), it does have some good points: transracial adoptive parenting comes with additional challenges, and loss of birth culture/race IS a loss. Doing away with all transracial adoptions isn’t practical, but I still think its important to parent with these two points in mind.

  21. It does seem like we have to continually revisit this debate. Sigh.

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