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Transracial Adoption

Media influences people’s opinions on various topics ranging from apparel to transracial adoption. As a society, Americans watch an average of 3 hours and 46 minutes of TV every day (Nielsen, 1998). However, Americans tend not to consider how much television influences their choices and opinions (Pelletier, 1999). The release of the film Losing Isiah and its possible affects on people’s opinions of transracial adoptions is the reason for addressing the abundance of television viewing. A transracial adoption is defined as the "adoption of black or biracial children by white adoptive families, although some individuals use the term to refer to any adoption across racial lines" (Encyclopedia of Adoption). In the film, Losing Isiah, an African American child is abandoned by his mother, who three years later comes to claim him from the Caucasian family that had been active in raising him. This film is exemplary in its depictions the many facets of this controversial issue: transracial adoption.

Transracial adoption is an issue that most social workers will come into contact with should they go into the field of adoptions. Transracial adoption has caused much controversy in this field for over two decades (Baden, 1999). There are people who believe that transracial adoptions should not occur because children will be striped of their racial identity (Lander, 1977). Others believe that transracial adoption should occur because the need to find a home is greater than ethnic differences (Leftwich, 1996). Both sides of the argument are discussed in greater detail later. Due to this controversy, social workers engaged in Project 21 are finding themselves in a compromising position when it comes to the adoptions of African American children.

Project 21 deals solely with African American children. According to Project 21, social workers are left with only two choices in dealing with transracial adoptions: 1) African American children may either remain in foster homes, or 2) the children may be adopted by non-African American couples (1995). One fact to be aware of when discussing transracial adoptions is that "40 percent of the children awaiting adoption are [African American], and only 12 percent of the U.S. population is [African American]" (Project 21 News, 1995). Even with these startling numbers, "many local and state social service agencies actively prevent transracial adoption in hopes of placing [African American] children with [African American] couples willing to adopt" (Project 21 News, 1995).

Though this paper will mainly focus on African American children being adopted by Caucasian parents, there will be some discussion on children of other ethnicities adopted by Caucasians. The first section of this paper will focus on the history and development of this field of service. The second section of this paper will address alternatives to transracial adoptions, outside of those presented by the Project 21. Transracial adoption has caused controversy in the past and will continue to cause controversy in the future unless more studies are designed to understand the effects of transracial adoptions. The outcome of future studies will indicate whether or not if transracial adoptions have a positive or negative effect on children.

Section I

Historical Background & Issues that lead to Transracial Adoption

Although ancient Greece, Roman, Egypt and Babylonian all had adoption systems; documentation of adoption did not occur until the 1800s (Abby, 1999 & Pippins, 1997). 1850’s America is when adoption became legally recognized, though it had minimal standards. It was not until 1917 that the rules governing any adoptions became more rigid in the U.S. (Pippin, 1997). In 1945 there was a shortage of children needing to be adopted due to the baby boom. For this reason the demand for babies exceeded the amount of children available. Because of this demand, agencies had to look elsewhere to meet the demands of parents (Pippin, 1997).

The demand for children is what lead to the first documentation of transracial adoptions. Transracial adoptions did not occur until after World War II (Baden, 1999). Children without families were taken from the war-torn countries and adopted by families in the United States. The majority of children that were adopted were Korean, Vietnamese, and European. These were the first documented cases of transracial adoption (Baden, 1999).

Due to the success’ of the transracial adoptions and the increasing number of racial and ethnic minorities in need of adoption, there was an increase in domestic transracial adoptions (Pippin, 1997). Particularly there were more African American, Native American, and Hispanic American children placed with Caucasian families (Baden, 1999). International transracial adoptions continues to spread especially with children from Korea, Columbia, Dominican Republic, Hong Kong, and other foreign countries (Baden, 1999).

Currently an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 children are adopted each year worldwide (Donaldson, 1999). The numbers of international adoptions has increased over the years; in 1990 there were 7,093 adoptions, which is more than half than that in 1998 with 15,774 (Donaldson, 1999). In 1998, the U.S. adopted children primary from Russia [4,491 children], China [4,206], Korea [1,829] and Guatemala [911] (Donaldson, 1999).

According to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services and U.S. Department of State, there is no definite number of known transracial adoptions; some studies have shown upwards of 16 percent of adoptions to be transracial (Donaldson, 1999).

Current Transracial Adoption Status

Currently the field is very tense in regards to allowing transracial adoptions to occur. In 1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) "became concerned about the large numbers of African American children . . . being placed with Caucasian families" (Baden, 1999). The NABSW is adamantly against transracial adoption of African American children to Caucasian parents. The NABSW believe that African American children who were transracially adopted were "maladjusted, [had] poor racial identity, the inability to cope with racism and discrimination, and [that] ‘cultural genocide’ [was] the likely outcomes of transracial adoptive placements" (Baden, 1999).

Even though the NABSW has been very vocal about its concern for transracial adoptions, people are currently still transracially adopting. If the NABSW would like to decrease the number of Caucasians adopting African American children they will have to be more proactive in recruiting minority parents (Baden, 1999).

Strengths of Transracial Adoptions

In the field of transracial adoptions there are many strengths. Perhaps the biggest strength is that children are being placed into positive homes with positive families (Nikkel, 1999). People for and against transracial adoptions do agree on two things: 1) adoption should be benefit for the child; and 2) it is wrong of people who adopt African American children to not expose the child to the African American culture (Simon, 1984). Due to this agreement it is likely that both parties have the best interest of the child in mind.


There are a few limitations to transracial adoptions. Most of these limitations stem from six common beliefs held by people opposed to transracial adopts: 1) Caucasian families can not teach minority children how to cope and survive in society, 2) transracial adoptions are a massive conspiracy on the parts of Caucasian communities to steal black children, 3) African American children raised in Caucasian families will grow up the be culturally deficient, 4) African American children suffer from severe identity problems, 5) Caucasians can not teach African American children how to survive in America society, and 6) African American children often return to foster care in the case of transracial adoption (Simon, 1984).

Of all of the beliefs above stated, none of them have been validated through studies. As long as these beliefs exists it will be difficult to transracially adopt children. It will be difficult to attract Caucasians to adopt because Caucasian will be afraid of the stigma minorities will place on them. For example, it has been said that Caucasians who adopt minority children are doing so to prove to the world that Caucasians can save the minorities (Focal Point). This stigma alone may deter loving Caucasians away from adopting minority children.

Emerging Issues

Issues that are emerging around the topic of transracial adoption are as follows: the number of children needing to be adopted, parents insuring cultural diversity, teaching child of their heritage, number of minorities adopting, and the disagreement among social workers.

Each year more and more children need to be adopted (Donaldson, 1997). Part of this is caused by the lack in funding provided to parents in order to raise their biological children (Abby, 1999). The government gives more money to foster and adoptive parents than to biological parents (Abby, 1999). Neglect is the one of the highest reasons for removing children from the home (Focal Point). It would be much more logical to spend money on preventive measures so that neglect would not be a cause to remove children from the household.

There is an increasing concern about a parent’s ability to raise a child from a diverse background to be culturally sensitive (Baden, 1999). People have found this statement to be unjust. Stereotypically Caucasians are not able to raise African America babies due to their lack of knowledge of African American culture. This perpetuates the stereotype that there is one dominating African American culture. Most, but not all, African American are religions and live in predominately African American neighborhoods. The agreement that the children will be denied their roots could be views as racist, which is not in the best interest of the child.

Another concern that people have about transracial adoptions is that a parent may not interact with other ethnicities (Simon, 1984). This is one area that the parents must be sure to focus a lot of their attention on. Parents need to interact with different races then their own. They must also be willing to have their child interact with large groups of ethnicities. However, this is not only something parents of transracially adopted parents must concern themselves with; this is something all parents should make a priority. It is believed that if the parent constantly works on creating diversity within the home the child can grow up comfortable with their racial identity (Landrith, 1999).

Another issue affecting transracially adoption is the number of minorities adopting. Simply there are not enough minorities adopting (Donaldson, 1999). There needs to be a huge campaign encouraging minorities to adopt. This would help place minority children with minority parents. Not enough has been done to actively recruit minorities into adopting.

One final emerging issue is the discrepancy between social workers. Some African American social workers believe that it is wrong to transracially adopt children, others see nothing wrong with it. Both sides have logical arguments. However, with the current number of children needing adopting, it is will be very difficult for the NABSW to be able to make it impossible for Caucasians to adopt minorities legally.

Kirton, a researcher, recently introduced a study examining the relationship between race of social workers and attitudes towards transracial adoptions. Kirton found that "minority students were significantly more supportive of same race placements that were their Caucasian counterparts" (1998).

Section II

Project 21 states that social workers have two ways to deal with transracial adoption: 1) children may either remain in foster homes, or 2) the children may be adopted by non-minority couples (1999). There are actually more alternatives.


One alternative that social workers have is to become more proactive in the rights of children and biological parents. There is not enough emphasis placed on keeping the children in the biological home. The current foster care and adoptions process is based on past colonialist models. New models and alternatives need to be implemented in order to improve adoptions.

A number of children placed for adoption, are born to young parents. For this reason the two proposed alternatives are based on educating the youth about sex. The first alternative would be to change the stigmas attached to adolescent sex. If we place a great emphasis on working with parents prior to conception, we may decrease the number of unwanted pregnancies.

The second possible alternative would be to place greater emphasis on parental roles: material and paternal. When young teens become pregnant they must be educated on other alternatives. This does not mean abortion, rather social workers should create houses where pregnant women, without social support, could gain knowledge on how to care for their children and know the laws surrounding negligence. These homes would also provide these young women with skills to obtain a job to help support themselves and their children.

Society should also expect more from young fathers. Fathers should be expected to spend equal amounts of time and money on their children. Society should focus on the importance of paternal involvement with child rearing. Though these ideas would be hard to implement, without changing the whole system, social workers are just "placing a Band-Aid on the wound" and not fixing the heart of the problem (Abby, 1999).


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