The Racialization of Adoption

By Ryan Bomberger

Adoption is a powerful and emotionally potent act, for the birth mother and the prospective parents. The act of relinquishing a child to someone else and to take in a child, who is not biologically-related, is an incredible act of love and sacrifice. We need to foster an environment where people pursue adoption more and the public is educated about the beautiful stories that typify the adoption experience.

Leading adoption researcher, Rita Simon, has proven that transracial adoption works.

Leading adoption expert and researcher, Rita Simon, has proven that transracial adoption works.

Often times, however, people are more apt to highlighting the negative stories and generalizing those rare instances as normal. People are also unaware that adoption is not, necessarily, an expensive process. Depending on the race of the child and type of adoption, the costs range from $0 to $40,000. Private adoptions of white infants (and international adoptions) can be quite costly. The variance in cost between African-American babies and other races is quite vast, sometimes costing less by tens of thousands of dollars. There are many black children in foster care that can be adopted through the state at no cost to the parent(s)1. Until recently in Georgia (and still in many other states), one of the five factors listed as “Special Needs” adoptions was: being black2. Black children remain in foster care at higher rates than other races and are disproportionately represented (27% of those entering foster care are black even though black children comprise only 15% of the U.S. child population).3

There are a number of factors that influence this, but the main factor is race. 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. Same-race adoptions are beautiful as well as mixed-race adoptions. For some reason, however, with every diatribe about racial healing and better cultural understanding, battle lines have been drawn around adoption. As long as we are human, the evil of racism will always exist. But that should never stop us from endeavoring to rid it where it harms the most vulnerable among us–the welfare of children. We are all guilty of our own prejudices, our firmly held stereotypes, our lack of proaction to be more culturally competent (understanding others’ cultures), and the inability to admit any of it.

“Transracial adoptees do not lose their racial identities-they do not display negative or indifferent racial attitudes about themselves, and their families have as high a success rate as all other adoptees and their families.”–Rita Simon, Leading Scholar who conducted 20 year longitudinal study, “The Case for Transracial Adoption”

There is an acute lack of awareness surrounding the act and process of adoption. Sometimes people just need a little education. The Radiance Foundation and countless other life-affirming organizations, through community events, conferences and media campaigns, are trying to raise the level of awareness of the need for adoption and for more to be involved. And although the expectation isn’t that every single parent/married couple should/can adopt, we can all play a role through our financial contributions, by volunteering at pregnancy resource centers, supporting birth mothers, and fighting material and spiritual poverty.

At the same time it seems some are more comfortable interacially adopting foreign children (and we need to be concerned about the plight of orphans globally), there is racial/political resistance to transracial adoption of black NABSW-LOGOchildren that has been going on for decades, and it needs to be exposed. Groups like The National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) are rooted in black nationalist ideology and declare that “black children should never be placed in white homes for any reason.”4 They reinforced their 1972 Position Statement in 1994.5

They oppose the provision in the 1996 InterEthnic Placement Act that eliminates using race as a factor in adoption/foster care placement.6 Their advocacy of the prevention of out-of-home placement , including transracial adoption, is not in the best interest of children. So, instead of actively seeking qualified and loving prospective parents (of any race), African-American children then languish in foster care for 15 months or longer because there are simply not enough same race (and qualified) homes available for them. A new legislative push from large organizations including NABSW, Child Welfare League and its subsidiary Black Administrators in Child Welfare (which does not advocate any out-of-home placements but Kinship care–placement only with child’s relatives) focuses on more federal funding for guardianship.7 This subsidy pays a child’s relative, deemed a guardian by child welfare decision makers, who is not financially capable of providing for the child. Kinship care, according to the Government Accountability Office, in its 2007 report “African American Children in Foster Care”, is one of the major factors causing black children to remain in foster care at rates far higher than any other race.

Transracial adoptions (from foster care) have increased from 17.2% of all adoptions in 1996 to 20.1 percent in 2003,8 but the racial disparities in placement outcomes continues. So, is culture then preserved while the child awaits a family? Is ethnic identity more crucial than permanence? Contrary to the claims by groups like NABSW and Child Welfare League, studies show that transracially adopted children are just as well-adjusted as same-race adopted children. Leading Scholar, Rita Simon, has conducted one of the most cited, in-depth longitudinal studies on the issue. And her research shows that over 80% of transracial adoptees disagree with groups like the National Association of Black Social Workers.9

Too often, adoption and foster care are racialized to the detriment of the child, when they simply need a place to call home and someone to love them.


1The Costs of Adopting: A FactSheet for Families.

2GA Division of Child and Family Services: Definition of Special Needs.

3U.S. Government Accountability Office, “African American Children in Foster Care”, July 2007

4National Association of Black Social Workers: Position Statement on Transracial Adoption, 1972:

5A Guide to The Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994 As Amended by the Interethnic Adoption Provisions of 1996.

6U.S. Government Accountability Office, “African American Children in Foster Care”, July 2007.

7Black Administrators in Child Welfare: Emphasis on Prevention.

8U.S. Government Accountability Office, “African American Children in Foster Care”, July 2007.

9“Transracial Adoption Works, Says Leading Scholar.”