Circa World War II, families in the United States adopted children from the war torn areas of Europe, Vietnam, and Korea. The majority of children were placed with Caucasian families. As the number of American racial ethnic minority children without families increased over time, domestic adoption agencies began to place African American, Native American, and Hispanic children with Caucasian families who longed for a child in their home or to reach out to a child in need.
The practice of placing a child who is of one race or ethnic group with adoptive parents of another race or ethnic group is commonly referred to as transracial or transculturual adoption and for many people continues to be a controversial topic. The focus of the transracial adoption debate unfortunately misses the point of adoption- to provide a stable, loving, and nurturing home for a large number of children legally available for adoption. Challengers of transcultural adoptions contend it is practically the same as cultural genocide and a naïve practice with serious social and self-esteem consequences for children of color.
Studies have repeatedly confirmed the personal observations of adoption advocates and mental health professionals; multiple transitions and a delayed permanent placement are far more injurious in the long run to children than transracial and transcultural adoption. Research also clearly demonstrates transracial adoption is a viable option with excellent outcomes for both child and family. Furthermore it appears in all examined age groups to produce children whose self-esteem is at least as high as that of non-adopted children and whose adjustment is highly satisfactory. Despite differing beliefs and points of view over the past thirty years, adoption professionals note several factors have contributed to the increasing number of transracial and transcultural adoptions.
Certainly there continues to be a segment of adoptive families who feel connected to a specific race or culture on account of their own ancestry, experience, or because of a certain child. However, the decreasing number of Caucasian infants available for adoption in the United States coupled along with the policy of some adoption agencies that does not accept singles or applicants older than 40 has most significantly driven this increase. As adoptive families will share, the decision to adopt brings with it numerous issues and challenges as well as amazing pleasure and joy.
Adopting a child of another race or culture adds additional elements to prepare for and consider. Not only is an examination of personal beliefs regarding race and ethnicity before adopting a child of another race or culture necessary but also parents need to explore their ability to tolerate being considered "different". Many families comfortably embrace being atypical. Their friends and countless others will support their choice, them, and the adopted child.
Other's need to be honest and realistic; they, their friends and family members, may have a racial bias and will be uncomfortable with standing out from the norm and not provide much support for the family or adopted child. Most transracial adoptees have a sense of identity with their racial background, but the intensity of identity depends, to a point, on the commitment of the adoptive parents to nurture it. Clearly all parents should not condone their own children or others teasing people who are different based on race and ethnic groups, or any other characteristic such as gender, religion, age and physical or other disability. Likewise it should be made clear to not assume all people of one group behave the same way. Successful transracial adoptive parents will share they need to work to assist their children in developing not only self-esteem but cultural pride as well. I
t is particularly important for children of color adopted by Caucasian parents to be around adults and children of various ethnic groups, and particularly, to see adult role models of the same race or ethnic group. These mentors can teach them about their ethnic heritage and over time be an invaluable resource of support. Adoption authorities foresee the number and need for transracial adoptions will continue to increase over the coming years. Furthermore they anticipate a high proportion of these adoptions will be children of color with special needs.
As in marriage, it is true love is not enough to make any adoptive placement successful. However, with unconditional commitment, dedication, and the development of love the likelihood of a successful placement dramatically increases. Whether of differing cultures or ethnic backgrounds, one of the best things adoptive parents can do for their adoptive child and themselves is simply to enjoy them, to treasure and celebrate likenesses and differences and to let the child know they are a special and wanted child.
Martha Osborne is an adoption advocate, adoptive mom and adoptee. In 2005, Martha was awarded the Congressional Angel in Adoption award for her tireless work in advocating for older, special needs and waiting children. She is also the editor of the online adoption publication, RainbowKids.com , the leading online resource for international adoption and waiting children, now in its second decade of online advocacy. http://www.rainbowkids.com