U.S. warns agencies on adoption, race

April 25, 1995|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- The government advised adoption and foster-care agencies yesterday that if they receive federal aid, they may not delay or deny the placement of any children because of racial or ethnic considerations.

Guidelines issued by the Department of Health and Human Services were designed to carry out the Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994, which President Clinton signed last October and which runs counter to past practices by many social workers.

In approving the controversial act, Congress expressed its concern that children from minority groups often are spending long periods of time in foster care -- sometimes twice as long as non-minority children -- while they wait to be placed in adoptive homes.

The new law is controversial because social workers have often delayed placements in order to achieve "racial matching" between children and prospective adoptive parents. But such a balance is extremely difficult because 40 percent of the children awaiting adoption are black, while blacks constitute only 12.3 percent of the population.

The National Association of Black Social Workers, for example, has taken the position that black children are better off with black parents. However, the group supports placement in white families if black families cannot be found.

About 445,000 children are in foster care, and for those in line to be adopted, the average wait is two years and eight months. According to the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse, nearly half the children in foster care are minorities, and black children in foster care average a third longer wait for adoption than the national median.

"Children are harmed when placements are delayed for a period longer than is necessary to find qualified families," the department said in a statement.

Mary Jo Bane, assistant HHS secretary for children and families, said that under the new law, which becomes fully effective in six months, the department "is committed to vigorous enforcement . . . to ensure that temporary foster care placements and permanent adoptive homes are readily available for children who need them, that children are not subject to discrimination in their placements and that all children have the benefit of a loving, permanent home."

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