The Wrong Idea for Black Kids?

August 21, 1994|By KARIN D. BERRY

Ohio Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum's proposal for a federal law banning race as a factor in adoption, with Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun of Illinois as a co-sponsor, has passed the Senate and moved on to the House.

Senator Metzenbaum's bill would prohibit any agency that receives federal funds from denying a foster care or adoption placement on the basis of race, color or national origin.

"Children should not be forced to languish in foster care because there are not enough parents of the same race to adopt them," Mr. Metzenbaum said in a press release.

His proposal has been hailed as a way to help move black children into permanent homes, with endorsements by Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund and the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson.

The implication is that policies that favor placing children with families of their own race are keeping black children from being adopted and that whites are needed as adoptive parents because not enough black people are available to adopt black children.

The public debate on transracial adoption as the way to help find homes for black children ignores the discrimination and obstacles in a system that was racially segregated for decades and thus has built no base in the black community.

Transracial adoptions first began in the late 1940s, according to "Transracial and Inracial Adoptions," a 1983 book by Ruth McRoy, a professor of social work at the University of Texas at Austin, and Louis A. Zurcher Jr. that included the results of a study comparing the effects of transracial and same-race adoption on children.

According to the study, "Traditionally, adoption agencies have been operated for the primary purpose of providing white infants to childless white middle-class couples. . . . Nonwhite, physically or emotionally handicapped, and school-age or older children were usually categorized as unadoptable or hard to place due to the minimal demand for such children."

Changing the emphasis

But in the late 1960s and 1970s, fewer white children were available for adoption, and agencies "redirected their efforts toward finding homes for these hard-to-place children," according to the study.

But after a resolution by the National Association of Black Social Workers in 1972 opposing transracial adoptions -- and favoring family preservation as best for black families -- many agencies instituted same-race placement policies.

The debate has raged since then, with blacks arguing that black families are best suited to raise black children in a racist society, and whites countering that love for a child has no color.

But transracial adoption is at best a limited answer to reducing the number of black children in foster care. Most of the children adopted transracially are infants or toddlers. Older black children, handicapped children and sibling groups -- like their white counterparts -- are labeled "special needs" or "hard to place" and are still waiting for homes.

Black adoptive parents like Judy and Managua Locke of Randallstown, and their daughter, Melissa, remain invisible. With the help of a state-funded recruitment program, One Church, One Child of Maryland, which has helped place 140 Maryland children in six years, the Lockes completed the adoption of their daughter in October 1993.

One Church, One Child was created in Illinois in 1980. The idea caught on in black communities across the nation, and has helped place more than 40,000 black children in 39 states, according to the Rev. George Clements, the Chicago priest who founded the organization. There is even a law providing funding for recruitment of black adoptive parents in Florida's black churches based on the One Church, One Child concept.

But the success of One Church, One Child is almost unknown. Other programs and agencies operating successfully across the nation -- most of them created by the black professionals and others working directly with the black community -- attract no attention. Instead, since a disproportionate number of black children are in the foster care system, the perception is that they are there because black people don't want to adopt them.

There is definitely a need for adoptive and foster homes for black children. In Maryland, for example, 68.9 percent of the 6,800 children in foster care in September 1993 were black, according to the state Foster Care Review Board. In comparison, 25 percent of the state's population is black.

Of the 1,300 who are available for adoption, 70.6 percent are black. In the year ending September 1993, 57.4 percent of those children adopted out of a total of 375 to 400 were black.

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