(FinalCall.com) – A New York-based adoption think tank says trans-racial adoptions have done little to reduce the number of Black children in foster care homes and echoes Black social workers’ warnings that in addition to loving, responsible homes, children need parents and families of the same ethnicity and cultural background.

The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute recommends changing federal laws governing the adoption of Black children, hoping for better preparation for White families who adopt them and improved recruitment of Black parents.

The institute’s report, “Finding Families For African American Children,” released May 27, found Black children adopted by Whites had difficulty coping with being different; struggled to develop positive racial/ethnic identities; faced more instances of behavioral problems and psychological distress due to perceived discrimination; and stayed in foster care about nine months longer than White children do. Federal law, the Multi-ethnic Placement Act of 1994, or MEPA, requires children be adopted without considerations of race.


“One of the biggest impediments is the diligent recruitment portion of MEPA isn’t being followed very well and if it were, there would be resources, money, personnel who would be reaching out in the African American community for more parents. That would make a big difference,” said Adam Pertman, executive director for the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. One way to solve that is simply recruiting more in all communities, especially among Blacks, he said.

MEPA prohibits delay or denial of child placements in foster or adoptive homes solely on the basis of race, color, or national origin, and it mandates that state agencies make diligent efforts to recruit foster and adoptive parents from a child’s racial make up.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that Black children make up 15 percent of the U.S. population yet are 32 percent of those in foster care. Whites are 58 percent of the population and 38 percent of children in foster care.

The institute recommends reinforcing all adoption-related laws and policies that prioritize a child’s best interest in placement decisions; amending laws to consider race/ethnicity in permanent placement planning; enforcing recruitment requirements; addressing barriers to fully engaging minority families through alliances; and providing support for adoption by relatives.

More recruitment of parents is needed, say advocates

“Black social workers took a position in 1972 that it was not good for Black children to be adopted by White parents. We had an academic research paper outlining how it wasn’t good, but now that a White research think tank has said it’s not good, folk are standing up and taking notice,” said Michael Guynn, president of the Association of Black Social Workers of Greater Los Angeles.

Dr. Alvin Poussaint, author and expert on race relations in America, believes problems in trans-racial adoptions arise when Whites who adopt Black children deny race is an issue. Saying that everything is colorblind shows parents may not be in touch with racial issues that affect their children or the hurdles their children must face, he said. That may handicap the child when it comes to dealing with race, Dr. Poussaint warned.

“I feel that in trans-racial adoptions that the child just should not be dumped. The adoption agency should have some kind of ongoing relationship with that family in terms of orientation and so on and maybe someone available who’s a Black social worker to answer questions and problems that may come up,” he explained.

“The other handicap may be when they totally are unwilling, because of this colorblind attitude, to expose their child or help them seek an identity that may be an African American identity,” said Dr. Poussaint. Children require the identity because “the world will be seeing these children as African American or Black children. The parents have a responsibility,” he said.

White couples may not be acquainted with the Black experience and things may come up in the life of the child, simply being called a racial slur, and sometimes White families don’t know how to handle this, Dr. Poussaint said.

New York City experiences problems with recruitment, but not trans-racial adoptions because the majority of adopted children come from the child welfare service, according to Dorothy Worrell, executive director of the Harlem-Dowling West Side Center for Children and Family Services.

“We don’t have an effective public campaign. Certainly every individual agency goes out to the traditional lay churches and networks with other foster parents, but I think still a public perception is that children who need foster homes are babies. The reality is, particularly in New York City, we’re talking older children and sibling groups,” Ms. Worrell told The Final Call.

Toni Oliver, founder of Roots Adoption Agency in Atlanta and co-chair of the Family Preservation Task Force for the National Association of Black Social Workers, said the national group opposed MEPA from its inception. The association always advocated for family preservation, she said. The association supports the institute’s findings, especially regarding active recruitment within Black communities, Ms. Oliver added.

“Min. Louis Farrakhan’s urging of Black men at the Million Man March to return to their homes and adopt Black children, and the increase as a result, is an example of when there is a call out to our community we respond. He did that in 1995 and we need to continue doing it and being reminded that even if there is not recruitment from the agency perspective, as individuals in our community, we need to continue to knock on doors to show our interest in adoption and make sure we are able to help our children to achieve some permanent outcomes and get out of the foster care system,” Ms. Oliver said.

Black social workers continue to advocate for services for extended families and children in their own homes and communities, rather than sending them to foster care. Ms. Oliver finds it interesting that over the law’s 15-year life, the recruitment provisions have never been enforced. During that period, she said, the only children who have benefited from trans-racial adoptions were those age four and under. The Black children with the poorest placement rates, who were waiting to be placed then are still waiting today.

“The only watchful eye has been on whether or not White families have been discriminated against if they wanted to adopt a Black child. It’s probably because the discussion of race is so volatile and it gains attention whenever it comes to the surface,” Ms. Oliver said.

Pre-foster care problems for Black children

Many issues for Black children begin before foster or adoptive care placements, child advocates say.

According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, which monitors federal performance and is the investigative arm of Congress, the prevalence of Black children in foster care is caused by a higher rate of poverty among Blacks. This leads to problems accessing housing, mental health and other services that help keep families stable.

Other factors that contribute to the numbers are bias or cultural misunderstandings, distrust between child welfare officials and families, and problems with recruitment of Black parents, GAO found.

It recommended more services to alleviate the problem, as well as strategies that included reducing bias by including families in decision making and increasing the availability of permanent homes.

“Just because you’re in a good home doesn’t mean you have access to your culture and everyone else has a connection with their own culture and they seem to get their needs met. But it also depends, especially on the parents and whether they are willing to take it a step further to ensure that the child has all of its needs met, culturally, medically and mentally, Mr. Guynn said.