Adoption nightmares have been in the news quite a bit lately. There were the reports of adoption scams and child exploitation in Haiti following the earthquake, and the arrest of U.S. missionaries who were suspected of kidnapping Haitian children and shipping them to an orphanage in the Dominican Republic. And there was the American woman who adopted a seven-year-old Russian boy and then sent him back to Siberia, which prompted Russia to suspend adoptions to the U.S.
But here is an adoption story that has not received quite as much attention. And it shines the spotlight on the crisis of black children unable to find parents to adopt them. A newly minted study by the California institute of Technology, New York University and the London School of Economics examined the preferences of Americans who want to adopt children. The data were collected between 2004 and 2009, and reflect the views of both straight and gay prospective parents. The study found that adoptive parents have very strong preferences for girls, and children who are not African-American.
The report found, unexpectedly, that girls are one-third more likely to attract adoptive parents than boys. In the general population, there is a slight preference for boys. Moreover, a baby who is not African-American is seven times more desirable to potential adoptive parents than a black baby. Although all of the parents in the study were white, surprisingly Latino and white children fared about the same.
In an unseemly way, all of this translates into dollars in America’s $2-3 billion adoption market: Parents were willing to pay $16,000 more for a girl than a boy, but $38,000 more for a non-African-American baby than a black one.
The real world, it appears, is a far cry from Arnold, Willis and Mr. Drummond of Diff’rent Strokes fame, or the cases of wealthy celebrities who adopt African babies— whether out of the goodness of their heart, as a political statement, for use as fashion accessories, or to generate positive publicity. And in many ways, we should not be surprised, because this is America. This is a society that still equates blackness with inferiority and criminality, even if the president is black.
As if to make a bad situation even worse, the study pointed to circumstances that are blocking people from adopting children, and causing far too many children to languish in foster care on a road to bad life outcomes. These include the restrictions in some states against same-sex or single-parent adoptions, as well as the 2008 Hague Treaty, which places limitations on foreign citizens who want to adopt children in the U.S. There is a reason why many gay and lesbian families decide to adopt girls from China—often they are barred from adopting here at home.
In fact, removing foreign parents from the pool—who may prove more open and with fewer cultural and racial hang-ups— reduced the number of successful adoption matches by 33 percent. And eliminating gay parents resulted in a 6 percent drop, with only 18 percent of birth mothers allowing same-sex adoptive parents in the first place.
From a public policy point of view, none of this is good news for black children, who exist in the foster care system far beyond their numbers. Although fifteen percent of U.S. children are black, they are one-third of children in foster care, and one-third of those awaiting adoption. As a whole, all children of color are 60 percent of the kids in foster care. And not surprisingly, as adults they fill up the nation’s prisons at a disproportionate rate, and are two-thirds of America’s inmates.
Many black children need a loving home, so what is the answer? In 1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) regarded transracial adoption as a type of racial and cultural genocide. It was a reasonable argument, given the sordid history in this country of social experiments such as the Indian Adoption Project. This was an assimilation program in the 1950s and 1960s that removed Native American children from their families, and placed them in white families. From about 1880 to 1980, Native American children in the U.S. and Canada were also placed in mandatory boarding schools, a racist policy designed to “”kill the Indian” and http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/native_voices/nav4.html#kill”>“save the man”.
Similarly, in the early twentieth century, the Australian government kidnapped mixed-race or “half-caste” Aborigine children and placed them in reeducation camps and white homes, in an attempt to breed them out of existence.
Transracial adoption in the U.S. faced a watershed moment in 1994, when the Multiethnic Placement Act was passed to prohibit agencies that receive federal money from delaying or denying the placement of children on the basis of race, color or national origin. But obviously, the law is not working, and race is still a big factor in adoption placement.
In light of this crisis of unadopted black children, more must be done to overcome the institutional racism of adoption workers and place these kids in loving homes. Some have suggested that black families must step up their adoption game, which is not a bad idea. After all, Sandra Bullock, Tom Cruise, Michelle Pfeiffer and Steven Spielberg can’t do it alone. But that is not enough. Because the best interests of the child are of paramount importance, providing him or her with a loving, healthy, nurturing environment in a family of any color should be the goal, particularly when the alternative is the foster care system. And if an adoptive parent can provide that to an African-American child— not to mention affirm that child’s racial identity, and know how to do black hair— then that’s really all you need.
In the end, black children should know they are wanted and loved.