Transracial adoption, the joining of racially different parents and children together in adoptive families, has been a source of controversy among adoption professionals for over 20 years. The North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC), like many other national and local organizations, has grappled with the complex issues it raises through a long history of dialogue and policy development. Still, fundamental disagreement over the propriety and prevalence of transracial placement remains.
NACAC undertook this survey of 64 private and 23 public child placing agencies in 25 states during the fall of 1990 to add factual information to the debate. (The survey focused specifically on placement of children of color legally freed for adoption. It did not address issues raised when white foster families wish to adopt their minority foster children.) Much of the discussion of barriers facing prospective minority adoptive families has been based purely on anecdotal information. It has also been commonly accepted that agencies vary widely in their philosophies and approaches to same race placement, but again, clear documentation has been scarce. NACAC is pleased that this survey, though far from comprehensive or rigorously scientific, provides concrete information in these regards. Answers to the survey’s 42 questions shed light on placement practices and highlight policies and procedures most directly affecting minority adoption.
The survey’s findings were quite revealing. Individuals from 87 agencies placed 13,208 children, including 6,347 children of color, in their most recent reporting years. More importantly, 83 percent of respondents said they were aware of organizational and/or institutional barriers preventing or discouraging families of color seeking to adopt.
Those most frequently cited were:
- Institutional/Systemic Racism. Virtually all procedures and guidelines impacting standard agency adoption are developed from white middle-class perspectives
- Lack of People of Color in Managerial Positions. Boards of directors and agency heads remain predominantly white
- Fees. Seventy-five percent of agencies surveyed said adoption fees are a barrier to minority families trying to adopt
- ‘Adoption as Business’ Mentality/Reality. Heavy dependence upon fee income, coupled with the fact that supplies of healthy white infants are decreasing drastically, force many agencies to place transracially to ensure survival
- Communities’ of Color Historical Tendencies Toward ‘Informal’ Adoption. Potential adopters of children of color question the relevance of formalized adoption procedures, many times wondering why such procedures are needed at all
- Negative Perceptions of Agencies and Their Practices. Families of color often possess negative perceptions of public and private agencies and their underlying motives
- Lack of Minority Staff. Minority workers “in the trenches” are crucial in building trust among families of color. Consequently, their relative scarcity impedes minority families hoping to adopt
- Inflexible Standards. Insistence upon young, two-parent, materially-endowed families eliminates many potentially viable minority homes
- General Lack of Recruitment Activity and Poor Recruitment Techniques. Agencies are unable to set aside financial and human resources required for effective recruitment
- Word Not Out. Communities of color remain largely unaware of the need for their services
The placement data collected from agencies provides other important insights as well. Overall, 78 percent of the Black children and 38 percent of the Hispanic children in the sample population were placed in same race homes. However, upon closer inspection, more detailed information is rapidly uncovered.
For example, 17 agencies ‘specializing’ in the placement of minority children found same race homes for 94 percent of their 341 Black children and 66 percent of their 38 Hispanic children. In contrast, ‘traditional’ private agencies did so only 51 percent of the time with their 806 Black children and 30 percent of the time with their 168 Hispanic children.
While equally as interesting, contrasting private agencies with public ones was more difficult because of poor record-keeping in the public sector. (This should improve within a year when a federal data collection system on foster care and adoption becomes mandatory.) Only eight of 23 public agencies interviewed had statistics enabling same race placement percentages to be computed. In these eight, however, 91 percent of Black children and 41 percent of Hispanic children were placed in same race homes.
When children’s ages at placement are included in the analysis, discrepancies between same race placement rates of specializing and public agencies and those of traditional agencies become even more startling. Minority children placed through public agencies and specializing agencies are often older or have special needs, yet are still placed with same race families at higher rates than healthy infants placed by traditional agencies.
It is also interesting to note how groups of agencies with different placement rates compare with respect to the various barriers listed above. For example, only 41 percent of specializing agencies charge adoption fees, but virtually all (91 percent) traditional agencies do. Moreover, when fees are charges they average $1,439 among minority placement specialists but a much higher $5,780 in traditional agencies.
Minority Placement Specialists
Traditional Agencies Non-Specializing
|Percentage of Black and Hispanic Children Placed in Same Race Families||87%||91%||47%|
Age of Children Placed
|Infant (0-24 months)||19%||54%||87%|
|Preschool (2-5 years)||35%||20%||5%|
|School-age (6-12 years)||37%||21%||6%|
It is clear that there are lessons to be learned from agencies successfully placing large percentages of children in same race families. Agencies believing in the importance of same race placement will do as much as possible to institutionalize policies and procedures that minimize the barriers enumerated above.
Agencies committed to same race placement must consider the following in their programs and policies:
- Recruitment. Recruitment must be ongoing, and should include a wide variety of tools and techniques. Flexibility–screening families in rather than screening them out–is critical, as are cooperative arrangements with other organizations in the community
- Retention. Potential adoptive parents must be responded to quickly and openly. Staff must be available at times convenient for prospective parents, not vice versa.
- The Homestudy Process. Homestudies must move away from an investigative style to an informative one. Flexibility and clear explanations should also play integral parts in culturally sensitive adoption studies
- Fees. Adoption fees are perceived by respondents as having a dramatically negative impact on almost all prospective minority adopters. Agencies must commit to making fees reasonable for all, and must understand that problems families of color have with adoption fees are often as much attitudinal as financial. Thorough explanations delineating between “fees for service” and the “buying of human flesh” are a necessity
- State Involvement. States must assume fiscal responsibility for costs of adoption if true committments to same race placement are to be made. States can assist private agencies by providing start-up funds for recruitment and retention programs, as well as supplying continuing support through ongoing purchase of service agreements
It is our hope that the information provided in this survey, and the questions raised by it, will be used to inform and shape policy and practice in the adoption community as well as the community at large. The experience of agencies specializing in placement of minority children shows clearly that families of color adopt in significant numbers when barriers are removed. There is no doubt that a permanent home is the absolute highest priority for any child. But we do not have to choose between permanence and same race homes for children who wait. Our choice is either to commit to changes that enable same race placements or to remain with the status quo.
Executive Summary, April 1991. By Tom Gilles, M.A., and Joe Kroll, Executive Director, North American Council on Adoptable Children.