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Interracial adoption means placing a child who is of one race or ethnic group with adoptive parents of another race or ethnic group, usually through the public child welfare system. The most recent estimates, which include international adoptions, found that 8% of adoptions were interracial . In the United States this term predominantly refers to placement of children of color or children from another country with Caucasian adoptive parents. This trend occurs because there are a disproportionate number of minority children represented in the child welfare system. This means that their relative numbers don’t reflect those of the general population in the United States. In contrast, data shows that those looking to adopt are usually upper class heterosexual white couples.
Based on the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), the fiscal year of 1998 showed that approximately 64% of children waiting in foster care are of minority background; 32% are White. Out of all foster children waiting for adoption 51% are Black, 11% are Hispanic, 1% are American Indian, 1% are Asian/Pacific Islander, and 5% are unknown/unable to determine. Data from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) show that adoption of an unrelated child was most common among childless White women and those with higher levels of income and education. The most recent estimate of interracial adoption was performed in 1987 by the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and it found that 1% of white women adopt black children, 5% of white women adopt children of other races, and 2% of women of other races adopt white children (estimates include foreign-born).
Before World War II it was very rare for white couples to adopt a child of a different race and every effort was made in order to match a child with the skin color and religion of the adoptive family. Then in 1944 the Boys and Girls Aid Society took an interest in the increasing number of minority children waiting to be adopted which focused on children from Asian American, Native American, and African American heritage. Children of Asian and Native American heritage were most easily placed outside of their racial group while those African Americans heritage proved more difficult. The campaign was called “Operation Brown Baby” and its objective was to find adoptive homes even if from a different race. Then during the civil rights movement, interracial adoptions in the United States increased dramatically and the numbers more than tripled from 733 cases in 1968 to 2,574 cases in 1971. (There are now about 6,500 cases a year.) It was then that the National Association of Black Social Workers condemned interracial adoption citing that adoptees were at risk for developing a poor racial identity due to lack of contact with role models of the same race. In the 1990’s the placement of black children into non black homes virtually came to a complete stop.
In 1994 the Howard M. Metzenbaum Multiethnic Placement Act was passed. It prohibits an agency that receives Federal assistance and is involved in foster care and adoptive placements from delaying or denying the placement of a child based on race, color, or national origin of the child or adoptive/foster parent. The in 1996 this law was amended with the Interethnic Adoption Provisions. These provisions forbid agencies from delaying or denying the placement of a child solely on the basis of race and national origin. The purpose of these revisions was to strengthen compliance and enforcement of the procedures, remove any misleading language, and demanded that discrimination would not be tolerated. Another important law regarding interracial adoptions was the Adoption and Safe Families Act that was implemented in 1997. The purpose of this law is to reduce the time that a child spends in foster care by implementing a 2 years limit and therefore hopefully moving a child closer to permanent adoption. The purpose of this act was to reduce the instability and abuse problems in the foster care system. Unfortunately, critics argue that it also takes the emphasis off of trying to keep children with their biological parents.
One study found that interracial adoptees fare sometimes better, sometimes worse, but overall about the same as their same-race adopted counterparts across the 12 adjustment measures investigated. These measures investigated indices of academic, familial, psychological, and health outcomes for 4 groups of interracial and same-race adopted adolescents. Specifically, interracial adoptees had significantly higher grades and significantly higher academic expectations but marginally more distant father relationships and higher levels of psychosomatic symptoms than their same-race adopted counterparts. Also, Asian adolescents adopted by White parents had both the highest grades and the highest levels of psychosomatic symptoms, whereas Black adolescents adopted by Black parents reported the highest levels of depression. On the other hand, Black adoptees reported higher levels of self-worth than non-Black adoptees.
Another reported that reported adjustment problems among their children at approximately the same levels as were reported by the parents of inracially adopted Whites. Yet, evidence also showed that extra-family forces, for example societal racism, did negatively impact adjustment outcomes. Particularly, experiences of discrimination generated feelings of appearance discomfort. The research suggested that Black and Asian children, who appear unmistakably different from Whites, are most likely to encounter such societal discrimination. Apparently, many Latino children with Anglo physical features can safely escape such expressions of racism. One of this study’s most interesting findings showed that interracial adoptive parents’ decisions on where to live had a substantial impact upon their children’s adjustments. Interracial adoptive parents living in predominantly White communities tended to have adoptees that experienced more discomfort about their appearance than those who lived in integrated settings.
Research has focused on the formation of cultural identity by the children adopted. For example, one study focused on Korean and Chinese children adopted by families in the United States. Interviews discovered that a high degree of involvement by children in Korean cultural activities was positively associated with scores measuring the strength of the children's Korean identity as well as with ease of communication with their parents about their adoptions. Parental encouragement of cultural activities & co-participation in them seemed to be critical in the development of ethnic identification.
Finally, some research has examined the empirical studies of interracial adoption themselves. These studies address whether past research that claims that interracial adoption positively benefits children of color, particularly Black children, may have methodological difficulties. Specifically, these studies analyze the presence of an ethnocentric bias in legal and scientific assessments of children’s well-being and adjustment.
Two Points of View
Pro Interracial Adoption
A dichotomy exists in reference to the subject of interracial adoption. Critics of race matching say there is a darker side involving whites with lingering racist beliefs against mixing races. They argue that children are hurt most by the practice. "One of the problems with race-matching policies," says Donna Matias, a lawyer with the Institute of justice, "is that it leaves the children in the system to wait. They are thrown into a vicious cycle where the chances plummet that they will ever get adopted ." Never getting adopted has been shown to have a negative impact on children. After aging out of foster care, 27% of males and 10% of females were incarcerated within 12 to 18 months. 50% were unemployed, 37% had not finished high school, 33% received public assistance, and 19% of females had given birth to children. Before leaving care, 47 percent were receiving some kind of counseling or medication for mental health problems; that number dropped to 21% after leaving care .
Pro Race Matching
On the other hand, David Watts, a biracial social worker in New York who was raised by an adoptive white family. "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," he says. "You have to live it in order to absorb it." The influential National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) has taken this stance, suggesting that interracial adoption is a form of "genocide" and that "black children in white homes are cut off from the healthy development of themselves as black people." "Same race makes sense because it is what the child is accustomed to, what causes the least disruption in the child's life," says Toni Oliver, a chairman of the organization. "Often when people are looking at 'love is all it takes,' they seem to overlook the impact race has on our society. Somehow when it's a case of adoption, race suddenly doesn't seem to matter anymore ."
- National Adoption Information Clearinghouse
- Adoption History
- AICAN - Australian Intercountry Adoption Network
Burrow, A. L. & Finley, G. E. (2004). Transracial, Same-Race Adoptions, and the Need for Multiple Measures of Adolescent Adjustment, American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 74(4), 577-583.
Courtney, M. and Piliavin, I. (1998). In Struggling in the Adult World, The Washington Post, July 21, 1998. Study conducted by School of Social Work, University of Wisconsin.
Feigelman, W. (2000). Adjustments of transracially and inracially adopted young adults, Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 17(3), 165-183.
Grob (2003). International Adoption: The Relationship between Child and Parent Characteristics and Parent Report of Child Adjustment, Dissertation Abstracts International. A, The humanities and social sciences, 64(4).
Huh, N. S. & Reid, W. J. (2000). Intercountry, Transracial Adoption and Ethnic Identity, International Social Work, 43(1), 75-87.
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