Psychiatrist urges new policy on adoptions

January 15, 1991|By Sue Miller | Sue Miller,Evening Sun Staff

Dr. Ezra E.H. Griffith, a leading black psychiatrist, tomorrow will urge that whites be encouraged to adopt black children.

Griffith, who is to speak tomorrow at the University of Maryland Medical Center, says he wants reconsideration of a widespread policy among black adoption officials, many of whom have opposed transracial adoptions for at least two decades.

"The scientific data show that black children involved in transracial adoptions generally adapt well and do not have more behavioral and school problems than children who are adopted by couples of the same race," Griffith, a Yale University School of Medicine psychiatry professor, said yesterday.

Yet, white couples who want to adopt black children meet a lot of resistance and many black children are denied opportunities in good, nurturing homes and end up in institutions and foster homes, he said.

Griffith estimates that about 40 percent of the babies up for adoption today are black.

Griffith, who also is director of the Connecticut Mental Health Center, has been chosen by the University of Maryland Psychiatry Department to be its first Dana African-American visiting professor. The professorship has been inaugurated to commemorate the birthday of the late civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which is today.

A series of professorships, made possible by an endowment established in 1956 in memory of Meyer and Etta Dana, will allow allow prominent psychiatrists to spend several days lecturing and sharing information with University of Maryland faculty.

"On the other side of the transracial adoptions argument, people feel that if you take black kids and give them to other people, that will result in the breaking down of the black family structure, and you are aiding and abetting the disintegration of black culture," said Griffith, a native of Barbados in the West Indies.

"At the same time, many black health professionals feel they are betraying the black community if they advocate transracial adoption. And, they defend their position by saying that such adoption is harmful."

Griffith said he believes the black social workers' worry of the potential disintegration of the black family "is a red herring" and the issue of the protection of equal access without regard to color "is a more important principle" than the principle of trying to protect black culture from disintegration.

He said the scientific data and the intent and character of the people who want to adopt should be looked at very carefully, and that "race should not be the controlling factor in the decision-making."

The studies show that about 22 percent of all adopted children develop emotional, behavioral or school problems, and the percentage of black children in transracial adoptions who encounter these difficulties is not higher than for the group as a whole, Griffith said.

Transracial adoptions have been difficult to achieve, according to Griffith, because whites and blacks in the adoption system have been heavily influenced by a policy adopted in 1972 by the National Association of Black Social Workers against transracial adoption.

The well-known psychiatrist will speak on transracial adoptions and public policy at 4 p.m. tomorrow at the University of Maryland Medical Center's Davidge Hall, 522 W. Lombard St. He said he will ask black professionals to reflect on how they arrived at that policy in the first place.

"That's the important piece," Griffith said. "They arrived at that policy by being frightened that their actions were, in fact, negative for the children in terms of the outcome. They were persuaded also by the notion that whatever whites were doing was a terrible thing because the black professionals did not want it done. So, there was a sort of intellectual stampede in that direction."

Griffith said he has chosen this theme for the first Dana African-American Visiting Professorship because "it allows us to conceptualize the difficulties and the intricacies and the complexities of race relationships in the United States between whites and blacks."

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