Answer 7

A Prospective Adoptive Parent Writes:

My husband and I are going through the foster/adoptive parent process, and as an interracial couple, we requested a child of mixed heritage. I am African American, and my husband is Brazilian and German. During a phone call with the agency, I asked if this was possible. The secretary said that she always felt that this was a tacky question and that people should just take what they are given. I responded that as an African American woman I really want a child who has somewhat the same features as me or some African features. I also would like for my husband to have a son who bears some traits of his.

I have a cousin who is rearing her sister’s mixed race Puerto Rican child who is very light skinned. She was questioned at the airport about the child and detained so that she missed her flight. I don’t want that to happen to me, and I am not Angelina Jolie. My husband and I don’t feel that it is tacky to want a child similar to ourselves, but I wanted an outside opinion. I just feel that it would be easier to make the transition, and since any child that we would have would look mixed, we feel that this is a reasonable request. Are we wrong?   Finally, this is a sensitive subject, and I have found that people can be crass or unaccepting of other people’s needs when developing their family. Thank you for your response.

John Raible Answers:

I agree that the subject of parent choice or preferences is a very sensitive one. My first thought is that you could have offered stronger reasons for stating your preferences to the agency person on the phone. Let me begin by saying that I would NOT talk to a secretary answering the phone about such a sensitive issue. Nothing against secretaries, but why wouldn’t you speak directly with your social worker? If the secretary actually used the word “tacky,” this certainly suggests that she has not received necessary training in how to speak appropriately with diverse clients on the phone. Referring to your question as tacky sounds judgemental. Come to think of it, her response sounds eerily similar to what many minority clients have reported about being made to feel unwelcome when first approaching adoption agencies with questions.

Secondly, I would hope that any agency that is concerned with meeting the needs of children of color, who are disproportionately over-represented in foster care, would be actively recruiting people of color as prospective foster and adoptive parents. My understanding of the federal Multi-Ethnic Placement Act (MEPA-IEPA) is that it requires agencies to recruit from minority communities, even as it says that race cannot be a deciding factor in adoption. The fact that you are African American should therefore be seen as a bonus by the agency. When you describe your strengths and competencies to your social worker, you can certainly talk about what you have to offer a child who can benefit from being placed with someone of your racial and cultural background. This is where you can talk about biracial or mixed-race children and their unique needs and what you and your husband have to offer as a mixed-race couple.

I think you will position yourself much stronger if you focus on meeting the needs of specific children, rather than on your desire to receive a child who looks like you. Physical matching  is what they used to do in the bad old days of adoption during the first half of the 20th century. Thankfully, the social work profession has evolved beyond such an outdated approach. This does not mean, however, that addressing the unique needs of adoptable children of color in other ways should be abandoned. I think it is actually a worthy and necessary goal. I would suggest that you and your husband sit down and spell out how you view your strengths as a couple and what you have to offer a child, particularly in terms of race and culture. Practice verbalizing your strengths so that you can relay them clearly to your social worker.

I agree that the subject of parent choice or preferences is a very sensitive one. My first thought is that you could have offered stronger reasons for stating your preferences to the agency person on the phone. Let me begin by saying that I would NOT talk to a secretary answering the phone about such a sensitive issue. Nothing against secretaries, but why wouldn’t you speak directly with your social worker? If the secretary actually used the word “tacky,” this certainly suggests that she has not received necessary training in how to speak appropriately with diverse clients on the phone. Referring to your question as tacky sounds judgemental. Come to think of it, her response sounds eerily similar to what many minority clients have reported about being made to feel unwelcome when first approaching adoption agencies with questions.

Secondly, I would hope that any agency that is concerned with meeting the needs of children of color, who are disproportionately over-represented in foster care, would be actively recruiting people of color as prospective foster and adoptive parents. My understanding of the federal Multi-Ethnic Placement Act (MEPA-IEPA) is that it requires agencies to recruit from minority communities, even as it says that race cannot be a deciding factor in adoption. The fact that you are African American should therefore be seen as a bonus by the agency. When you describe your strengths and competencies to your social worker, you can certainly talk about what you have to offer a child who can benefit from being placed with someone of your racial and cultural background. This is where you can talk about biracial or mixed-race children and their unique needs and what you and your husband have to offer as a mixed-race couple.

I think you will position yourself much stronger if you focus on meeting the needs of specific children, rather than on your desire to receive a child who looks like you. Physical matching is what they used to do in the bad old days of adoption during the first half of the 20th century. Thankfully, the social work profession has evolved beyond such an outdated approach. This does not mean, however, that addressing the unique needs of adoptable children of color in other ways should be abandoned. I think it is actually a worthy and necessary goal. I would suggest that you and your husband sit down and spell out how you view your strengths as a couple and what you have to offer a child, particularly in terms of race and culture. Practice verbalizing your strengths so that you can relay them clearly to your social worker.

click to share to: