New federal guidelines that limit how and when race, ethnicity and cultural background may be used to determine a child’s adoptive or foster care placement are now in effect. Signed into law by President Clinton, the Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA), eliminates policies that favor same-race placements.
Controversial since its inception, MEPA covers all adoptive and foster care agencies that directly or indirectly receive federal funds. The goals of MEPA are to decrease the time children wait to be adopted, prevent discrimination in the placement of children on the basis of race, color or national origin, and ensure agency recruitment of a pool of foster and adoptive parents who reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of waiting children.
In New York State, 87% of nearly 54,000 children in foster care are minorities. About 3,500 foster children are free for adoption and awaiting an adoptive family. An additional 10,062 foster children have the goal of adoption but are not yet legally free for adoption.
Regulations that favored same-race placements needed to be amended or repealed, according to Brenda Rivera, Adoption Specialist for the Bureau of Policy Planning of the NYS Division of Services and Community Development. “In New York State our policy was preference of same race placement,” said Rivera. “Now, to be in compliance with MEPA, the consideration of race will be on an individual, case-by-case basis.”
NYS Department of Social Services Regulation 421.18 now states, “When making placement decisions, an authorized agency may consider the cultural, ethnic or racial background of the child and the capacity of the adoptive parent to meet the needs of the child with such a background as one of a number of factors used to determine best interests. Race, color or national origin of the child or adoptive parent may be considered only where it can be demonstrated to relate to the specific needs of an individual child.”
Rivera has already provided training sessions on MEPA in Upstate New York Regions 1, 2, and 3 and in New York City with regional staff and adoption and foster care specialists. Additional trainings will be held throughout 1996. Questions still remain as to whether and how the federal government will monitor MEPA’s impact. A system is not yet in place to track the placements made under MEPA or to determine the effect it has on the lives of children it is meant to help.
This was originally printed in the Coalition Voice, winter 1996.