Is the modern-day adoption process colorblind?

theGRIO REPORT - Factors like race, religious affiliation and family history only serve to complicate the already cumbersome process of finding a forever family...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

When a child is given up for adoption, there are many shared sacrifices and difficult decisions that both the adoptive and the birth parents must make. Factors like race, religious affiliation and family history only serve to complicate the already cumbersome process of finding a forever family.

In 1994, President Clinton signed the “Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA) into law”:, which prohibited the use of “race, color, or national origin of a child or of a prospective parent” in order to “to deny a particular foster care or adoptive placement.” On August 20, 1996, the law was amended, making it illegal for any institution that receives federal funding to consider race as a factor in the adoption process.

Fifteen years later, the law that meant to put an end to racial politics in adopting is still met with mixed emotions, and it has left many questioning the impact that it has had on African-American foster children and the recruitment of adoptive and foster parents. Are black children who are eligible for adoption better off because of the law? Has it led to more of them finding forever families and homes? Is there still a stigma associated with parents from a different race adopting a child?

According to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there are currently more than 500,000 children in foster care that are looking to be adopted in the United States. About 29 percent are African-American, compared to the 41 percent of black children who were in foster care in 2000. Since the passage of MEPA, interethnic adoptions rose from 17.2 percent to 20.1 percent in 2003.

MEPA was enacted after a Texas couple challenged the national policy against transracial adoptions. Lou Ann and Scott Mullen, a white man and his Native American wife, filed a lawsuit accusing the state of blocking their adoption of two black children who had lived with them in foster care for years. After a two-year fight with the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, the couple reached a settlement and were allowed to proceed with the adoption.

And while MEPA was seen as a victory in the transracial adoption process, a report done by The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in 2008 found that its enactment has not resulted in equity in achieving permanency for African-American children awaiting adoption. The study also revealed that due to the manner in which it is enforced, MEPA mandates an unyielding color-blindness that is counter to the best interest of children and sound adoption practice because it prohibits agencies from preparing families for the issues they may face while embarking on an interracial adoption.

An article published in in Time Magazine revealed “the law had a chilling effect on agencies that might want to facilitate transracial adoptions. Black children are adopted less frequently and more slowly than kids of any other race. White children are five times as likely as to be adopted than children from any minority group, and are adopted out of foster care an average of nine months sooner than black children.”

Although overall adoptions increased 78 percent from 1996 to 2000, there are many who continue to question whether placing minority children with racially and ethnically diverse foster and adoptive parents is truly beneficial to them. The concern that children adopted by parents of a different race will have trouble identifying with their heritage has been at the center of the debate throughout history.

The National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) is against interracial adoptions, and members have been vocal about their opposition since the organization’s inception.
“The National Association of Black Social Workers has taken a vehement stand against the placement of black children in white homes for any reason,” the group’s “Position Statement on Trans-Racial Adoption” reads. “We affirm the inviolable position of black children in black families where they belong physically, psychologically and culturally in order that they receive the total sense of themselves and develop a sound projection of their future.”

David Watts, a biracial New York social worker who was adopted by white parents, agrees with the organization’s stance, and says that interracial adoptions are not the best option for African-American children because “it’s a bad idea to put a black child in a white home…I think it’s impossible for someone of one culture to teach another culture. You have to live it in order to absorb it.”

While there are many out there who have similar beliefs about multiethnic adoption as the NABSW and Watts, there are some who have had a change of heart, and now realize the importance of finding loving homes for children, despite their adoptive parent’s race or ethnicity. A friend led writer Essence magazine Janelle Harris to change her opinion on inter-ethnic adoption.

“I’ve never really believed that interracial adoption was a good thing, specifically when it comes to black children. It’s always been, to me, one of those situations born of necessity — but because there are so many black kids who need stability, and there are so many white folks prepared to adopt, it seemed sinister to begrudge the babies a home, even if the parents at the head of it don’t look anything like them,” wrote Harris.

Parents who embark on interracial adoptions, however, must be prepared to deal with issues like social acceptance and even things like proper hair care, while providing their children with a healthy self-identity. Harris goes on to say that teaching kids about their culture and race should be a parent’s responsibility, and that adoptive parents who are considering adopting children from a race different from their own should take classes about their child’s heritage.

Adam Pertman, executive director of the Donaldson Institute, told TIME magazine that families who adopt children from another race must also be prepared to deal with discrimination and that “we’re doing a disservice to children if we try to ignore those racially based anxieties.”

“Nobody’s saying black kids shouldn’t have white parents, but does anybody really think we live in a fully color-blind society? It’s a nice ideal but it’s not reality.” Pertman told TIME.

Ryan Bomberger, a black pro-life advocate and writer for, believes that the racialization of adoption threatens black children, and despite all of the racial politics and opinions surrounding the interracial debate, the most important thing is that these young people find a good family and a stable home environment.

“We are a nation still so uncomfortable with the hue of our skin that we miss out on the ultimate act of racial reconciliation-loving a child of another race simply because they deserve to be loved,” he writes. “Same-race adoptions are beautiful as well as mixed-race adoptions. Too often, needless racial politics mire adoption and foster care, to the detriment of the child, by those charged with their welfare. In the end, what children really need, regardless of race or ethnicity, is a place to call home and someone just to love them.”