The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute release a report titled “Finding Families for African American Research on what is best in transracial adoptionChildren: The Role of Race & Law in Adoption from Foster Care.” The New York Times, Time, and The Washington Post ran articles on this report.

This report found that:

  • The federal laws passed in the mid 1990’s to remove race as a factor in placements from foster care have not resulted in equity in adoption for African American children.
  • The “color blind” interpretations of these laws run counter to widely accepted best practices in adoption.
  • The laws call for “diligent recruitment” of prospective adoptive parents who represent the racial and ethnic backgrounds of children in foster care has not been well implemented or enforced.

Adjustment and Self Esteem of Children in Transracial Adoption

Researchers in the fields of sociology, psychology, and social work began to focus on transracial adoption in the 1970s and 1980s, examining children’s overall adjustment, including self-esteem, achievement, and level of adjustment problems. Most used very small sample sizes and evaluated children at one point in time and at young ages; and some did not have comparison groups of children placed in same-race families. Also, almost all of these studies have been conducted on children adopted as infants or from other countries, rather than on children adopted from foster care. Generally, these studies found that children adopted transracially in the U.S. or from other countries had overall adjustment outcomes similar to children placed in same-race families (Grow & Shapiro, 1974; Kim, 1977; McRoy, Zurcher, Lauderdale, & Anderson, 1982, 1984; McRoy & Zurcher, 1983; Simon & Alstein, 1987; Feigelman & Silverman, 1983; Shireman & Johnson, 1986).

Research on transracial adoption has progressed over the past 35 years in methodological rigor and complexity. Overall, the current body of research on this issue supports three key conclusions:
1.) Transracial adoption in itself does not produce psychological or social maladjustment problems in children.
2.) Transracially adopted children and their families face a range of challenges, and the manner in which parents handle them facilitates or hinders children’s development.
3.) Children adopted from foster care have more risk factors. For these children, research points to the importance of adoptive placements with families who can address their individual issues and maximize their opportunity to develop to their fullest potential.

Little adoption research has examined transracial adoption of children from foster care, but the adoption studies that do exist have found that while parents are equally satisfied, there is a higher rate of problems in minority foster children adopted transracially than children adopted by families or their same race. Also, when children have issues, there is evidence that they have a stronger association with problematic parent-child relationships among transracial adoptions than in same-race adoptions (Rosenthal & Groze, 1992; Howard & Smith, 2003).

An underlying assumption of past research was that transracial adoption was not a challenge for adoptees if there were no significant differences on overall adjustment measures between groups of transracial and in-race adoptees. However, recent studies – using more rigorous methods to directly measure the racial and ethnic experiences of adoptees and how these experiences may contribute to psychological adjustment – have found parents’ attitudes and behaviors related to racial socialization affect their transracially adopted children’s outcomes on a range of variables (Lee, 2003).