Black children, white parents Our Turn

Bonnie Erbe & Kate O'Beirne

April 03, 1992|By Bonnie Erbe & Kate O'Beirne

THE National Association of Black Social Workers is lobbying Congress to adopt a bill that would ban white parents from adopting black children except in very limited circumstances. Is adoption across racial lines bad for children?

BONNIE ERBE: Between 40,000 and 50,000 children are adopted each year in the United States. Nobody knows the precise figure. Eighty percent of these children are American-born; 20 percent come from other countries. The foreign-born children are brought into the United States by anxious would-be parents for whom the adoption system has failed.

The system fails because there are many more adults (most of them white) who want to adopt than there are children for them to adopt, and there are many more children (most of them African Americans) who need homes than there are "suitable" homes to take them in. Despite this set of facts, some groups want to prevent white people from adopting black babies.

A transracial adoption ban would produce an even greater chasm, wrenching ready and willing parents from babies who need them. Half the 370,000 children in foster care in this country are black. Allowing white adults to adopt black children will not provide loving homes for them all. In a polarized society, most white adults would be reluctant, if not outright opposed, to adopting a black child. But it makes no sense to erect legal barriers for the truly colorblind.

The National Association of Black Social Workers is fighting the placement of black children -- including the children of biracial couples -- in white homes. The association fears transracial adoption could result in cultural genocide for blacks. But this kind of thinking is myopic and just plain wrong.

Studies of black, Hispanic, East Indian and Asian children adopted by white families in the United States and England show they adjust as well as those adopted by same-race parents and suffer no lack of self-esteem. These children tend to be more accepting of integration and mixed-race marriages. They move easily between the white and ethnic worlds and function well in both. Transracial adoption solves two problems: It finds permanent, loving homes for children who might otherwise drift from foster home to foster home.

KATE O'BEIRNE: Common sense tells us, and expert opinion agrees, that the longer a child lingers in the limbo called foster care, the greater the chance for long-term problems. The aim of the foster care system must be to move children into permanent adoptive homes as quickly as possible. The dilemma faced by the foster care system is that there are not enough suitable adoptive parents for the thousands of children who are eligible for adoption. But perhaps there would be more minority adoptive homes if the word "suitable" were not defined so inflexibly.

Most of the children awaiting adoption are categorized as "special needs" -- older than age 2, with medical or developmental problems, or any race other than white. Those who oppose the adoption of black children by white families argue that child welfare workers simply don't try hard enough to find black families willing to adopt these children.

Robert Woodson, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, disputes the notion that it's difficult to recruit black adoptive families for black children. He highlights the long tradition of adoption in the black community -- frequently informal arrangements that provided loving homes to needy youngsters. Woodson argues that many families willing to adopt don't fit the traditional profile as defined by the child welfare system and their putative unavailability fuels calls for transracial adoption.

If a 50-year-old postal worker and his 45-year-old wife have successfully raised their own family, shouldn't they be considered a qualified couple to adopt a child with special needs? The system would likely reject them as too old. Likewise, military families are frustrated in their efforts to adopt because they move frequently and must begin the lengthy process anew in each state.

No child should be denied a permanent home because the system insists on inflexible standards and gets mired in bureaucracy. The National Association of Black Social Workers, therefore, should continue its efforts to recruit more black families rather than seek to prohibit transracial adoptions. Such a strict prohibition would just condemn children desperate for families to life in a series of foster homes.

Bonnie Erbe is legal affairs correspondent for Mutual/NBC Radio Network. Kate Walsh O'Beirne is vice president of government relations at the Heritage Foundation.

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