Parents Increasingly Adopting Children of Another Race

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The number of transracial adoptions, or families adopting a child of a different race, is on the rise. Ed Gordon talks with Rita Simon, a sociologist from American University who has studied transracial adoptions, and Joseph Crumbley, a social worker and family therapist in Philadelphia who specializes in transracial adoptions, about the trend.

(Soundbite of music)

ED GORDON, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon.

Transracial adoptions are on the rise, including African-American children being taken by white families. According to government data analyzed by the New York Times, one-quarter of all black children adopted out of foster care two years ago were adopted transracially. To find out why these numbers are increasing, I spoke earlier with Rita Simon, a sociologist from American University who has studied transracial adoptions. And Joseph Crumbley, a social worker and family therapist in Philadelphia who specializes in transracial adoptions. Rita Simon, let me start with you.

Professor RITA SIMON (Sociologist, American University): All right.

GORDON: We're seeing an increase in white families adopting black children. In 2004 we saw a 26 percent increase in black children being adopted from foster care by white families. This was up roughly 14 percent from 1998. Why do you believe we're seeing this surge?

Prof. SIMON: Well, I think that white American families had been adopting a lot of children from overseas but that is pretty expensive and complicated. And so I think now, especially since the passage of the bill in 1996 that said race shall not be a factor in adoption, it isn't so hard to adopt black babies in the United States. And there are a great many of them who, if they would not be adopted transracially, would remain in foster care or in institutions for many years.

GORDON: Joseph Crumbley, Rita Simon brings up the question - the age-old question - that has been debated for some time, and that is whether or not race should, in fact, be a quote, large factor in the determination of whether a child should be placed in a family that is not of their race. Talk to me about what we have seen historically from a social perspective when this happens.

Mr. JOSEPH CRUMBLEY (Social Worker; Family Therapist): I think also to add to that question as to, you know, why the increase of white families adopting, I think it also has to do with the fact that there's been a lack of a pool of available black families available for adoption, that that pool really hasn't been adequately developed. So I think you also have that as a reason for why there's an increase in more families that are adopting that are white.

When we start looking at race socially, I think initially we had organizations like the Alliance of Black Social Workers that were saying race does matter. We've got some current research now that's also saying that race does matter and that children who are adopted transracially are predisposed and are at risk of dealing with issues related to developing racial and cultural identity. And that they're also confronted with dealing with racism, prejudice and discrimination. Consequently, we really need to look at how we're preparing children who are adopted transracially to deal with issues of race.

GORDON: Rita Simon, we see a change in attitude, in some respects from 1972 -the early 70s - when the National Association of Black Social Workers considered linking white adoption for black children to cultural genocide.

Prof. SIMON: Yes, that's right. Yes.

GORDON: While they removed that language in 1994, they still recommend same-race placement.

Prof. SIMON: Yes. I have been doing research on transracial adoption since 1968 and what we find, consistently, is that the white families cannot raise a black child as if it was its own birth child. They have to make changes in their lives. In other words, love is not enough. They need to find black families with whom they're friendly. Move into integrated neighborhoods. If possible, join black churches. Go to black cultural events and social events. Have information about the black history of this country in their homes, and so forth. They have to make changes in their own lives. To the extent that they -

GORDON: If they don't do that, what happens to this child?

Prof. SIMON: If they don't, then the children may have problems with racial identity. But it's been our experience in all these studies, and here the adoptees are speaking in their own voices, we are aware of our racial identities. In fact some of them laugh and say, all we have to do is look in the mirror. We're comfortable with our racial identities. There are many ways of being black in the United States. We may be middle-class black, but it doesn't make us any less black. We are also integrated into our adoptive families.

Mr. CRUMBLEY: But I think it's important to add that these children do not just automatically develop positive racial identity and do these things without the parents being involved in that process.

Prof. SIMON: Absolutely.

Mr. CRUMBLEY: I just want to reinforce what Rita's saying.

GORDON: Isn't that part of the continuing and continuous slippery slope, if you will, the idea of whether or not a child - particularly in what seems to be an ever-problematic foster care system - is better off remaining there, versus going to a different race family that may not have the education and the wherewithal to be able to teach this child, comfortably, how to grow up in their own skin?

Mr. CRUMBLEY: I think it's primary that we have children with families. I don't think we can get away from that. If we're talking about looking at the lesser of two evils or looking at what's optimal, I think it's more important for children to be with families than to grow up in institutions. We've got plenty of research that looks at what happens to children emotionally, psychologically, if they're not raised with families compared to children raised in an institutional setting.

I don't want that to be an excuse for not giving children the optimal parenting that they need and deserve if they're a child of color - that it is important to address race and culture because society is race conscious.

GORDON: Rita Simon.

Prof. SIMON: Yes?

GORDON: How much can this be laid at the doorstep of the individual communities? I'll use the black community as a for instance. There are many who suggest that advocates of black adoption have criticized agencies for not doing enough to recruit black families. Yet there are others who suggest that black families aren't doing enough and looking at the numbers of black children in foster care waiting to be adopted and stepping up to the plate.

Prof. SIMON: Right. I think both factors are involved. I think agencies need to seek out as many black families as they can. But you should know that black families adopt at a higher rate than white families. It's just that there are many more black children, percentage-wise, who are available.

And one of the things I think it's terribly important to emphasize, is that adoption is for children. Adoption means moving children into permanent homes. Foster care, you can always be waiting for the knock on the door. Institutions, as you can imagine, have great problems.

GORDON: Joseph Crumbley, give us if you will, as we exit here, something to be optimistic about in terms of the future of what we're seeing in relation to adoption across the board, first and foremost, and then transracial adoption specifically.

Mr. CRUMBLEY: What the research is showing is that adoptive families are available. That it is a myth, the idea that they're not enough African-American families. The problem is the retention and getting African-American families through the adoption process so the children are made available to them.

I think the other thing that gives us some optimism is that we are now finding families that are adopting, believing and accepting the fact that race is important. That race does count. And I think these families and these children have become part of a movement where they're now requiring and asking agencies to make sure that parents are adequately prepared and supported in raising children of color.

GORDON: Rita Simon, a sociologist from American University and Joseph Crumbley, a clinical social worker and family therapist in Philadelphia who specializes in kinship care and transracial adoptions. I thank you both.

Mr. CRUMBLEY: Thank you.

Prof. SIMON: Thank you.

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