Adoption policy in black and white

April 09, 1992

They loved her; she called them mommy and daddy. So the couple decided to adopt the cute infant they had taken in 2 1/2 years earlier as a foster child. But welfare officials objected. The child was taken from the couple's home. Later they were told that a more "suitable" family had been found. The couple was emotionally devastated by the decision; the woman wept, while her husband was tormented by feelings of anger and helplessness.

While the numbers are not large, such scenes have been played out with increasing frequency in recent years. The little girl had not been abused or neglected in the couple's home. The husband had a good job and his wife was devoted to children. They were denied permission to adopt the child because the welfare department in the state where they lived had a policy of placing children with adoptive parents of the same race whenever possible. The couple was white, and the little girl they wanted to adopt was black.

Half of the 370,000 children in foster care in the U.S. are black -- many more than there are "suitable" homes to take them in. Yet despite the acute shortage of black adoptive families, some groups want to prevent white people from adopting black babies. The National Association of Black Social Workers, for example, is fighting the placement of black children in white homes out of a fear that transracial adoption could result in "cultural genocide" for blacks -- even though studies of minority children adopted by white families show they are as comfortable with their race as those adopted by same-race parents. They also lead far happier lives than youngsters who drift from foster home to foster home.

The number of children in foster care has increased by 50 percent in the past five years. Coupled with the complexity of child custody laws and the limited pool of "suitable" adoptive homes, the ban against transracial adoptions has meant that black children languish in foster care significantly longer than other children.

The aim of foster care ought to be to move children into permanent adoptive homes as quickly as possible. Allowing white adults to adopt black children won't provide loving homes for them all, nor, given the present strained state of race relations in this country, would most whites want to adopt a black child. But it seems perverse to erect legal barriers for those who are truly colorblind.

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