Transracial Adoption

Find out whether adopting a transracial child is right for you and your family.
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Transracial Adoption

It's an unfortunate fact that it's harder to find adoptive families for nonwhite children. Yet, whether biracial or African-American children should be adopted by whites has been a subject of intense debate. In 1994 and again in 1996, the federal government passed laws that forbade racial consideration as the sole reason to deny a prospective adopter a chance to adopt a child of another race.

Despite changes in the law, white families who want to adopt children of another race or children who are biracial might find it easier to adopt them through a private adoption agency, rather than through the state social services department, because of bureaucratic resistance to transracial adoption. Sometimes families adopt a child of another race through an adoption attorney. Agencies (but not attorneys, usually) might charge lower fees for children who are nonwhite.

Here are a few issues to consider if you are thinking about adopting a child of another race from your own, regardless of your race or the child's race:

  • Your child probably will face some racial slurs, as may you and other family members.
  • People will ask you intrusive questions.
  • Some people will be very positive toward you, and others very negative.

Transracial adoption refers to the situation in which a family adopts a child of another race. Generally, transracial adoption specifically alludes to whites adopting African-American children.

People who support transracial adoption say that what children need is a loving family and that too many African-American children remain in foster care while African-American adoptive families are sought for them. Some people (like me) believe that if people of a certain race are good enough to be long-term, stable foster parents, then they are also good enough to become adoptive parents. But unfortunately, many foster children who are placed with families of a different race have been eventually removed to a same-race placement, purely for racial reasons. Of course, this does not mean that children should always be placed outside their race. Whenever possible, foster children should be placed with appropriate foster/adoptive families of their own race. However, race should not prevent a child from having a family.

Familybuilding Tips

Families interested in transracial adoption should read Inside Transracial Adoption by Gail Steinberg and Beth Hall (Perspectives Press, 2000). This book is packed with anecdotes and positive, helpful advice for transracial adopters.

Those who oppose transracial adoption believe that it's important for a child to be parented by people of the same race. They think the child would be racially and culturally deprived—some call it racial genocide—if the child were adopted by parents not of the same race. They also believe that the parents could not understand how to deal with racial insults and slurs and that such insults would be more prevalent in a child adopted transracially than in a child adopted by parents of the same race or ethnicity.

Opponents of transracial adoption believe that children of other races cannot develop an ethnic identity or sense of racial heritage when they are raised by white parents. They argue that these children will feel inferior or will not be comfortable with their own racial culture.

Adoption Alert

Special laws govern the adoption of any child who has parents, grandparents, or even great grandparents who are Native American. The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 treats all Native American lands as if they were separate countries within the United States. As a result, in most cases the consent of the birthparents alone is not enough to adopt a child—you must also obtain the consent of the tribe.

Adoptions have been stopped in their tracks and even overturned after years when a tribe has complained that the Indian Child Welfare Act was not complied with.

(If you are part Native American yourself, or eligible for tribal membership, the way to adopt an Indian child may be considerably eased.)

Some studies suggest that this may not be the case. Rita Simon and Howard Altstein have been studying a group of black children adopted by white families since 1971. Their most recent book, Adoption Across Borders: Serving the Children in Transracial and Intercountry Adoptions (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000), indicates that the majority of children adopted transracially have a strong sense of self-esteem and a positive sense of their identity.

Although Simon and Altstein found that most of the transracially adopted children have done well, they don't deny that transracial adoptions can cause problems. Unfortunately, racial slurs and inequalities still happen at all levels in our society. Transracially adopted children may be subjected to teasing and may sometimes feel like they don't fit in. It is also likely that the parents in Simon and Altstein's study were especially sensitive to racial issues and took care to deal with them as effectively as possible.

Multiracial Children


A multiracial child has a heritage of more than two races in her background.

A logical problem arises when a child is of mixed racial heritage—what then? Some people, like professional golfer Tiger Woods, who is part Asian, part African-American, and part Native American, don't like to be identified with any particular race. As a result, a new category, multiracial, has been created.

Tiger Woods wasn't adopted, but when multiracial people like him are adopted, the opponents of transracial adoption like to insist that they be placed in a nonwhite home. Their position is that when a child is multiracial, you should default to the minority race that seems physically most obvious. (Not always an easy call!)

Thus, by this reasoning, a child born to a white parent and an African-American parent should be adopted by only African-American parents. In fact, this has been the generally accepted practice in public agencies for years—although enforcement of new laws might eventually change these policies. As a result, in most cases where white parents want to adopt a child of mixed race, they may find it easier to adopt through a private adoption agency, no matter how many mixed-race children wait in foster care for families.

Long-term studies of children adopted transracially indicate that most of the children adopted as infants do well in their adoptive families. As with other children, the children at most risk for future problems are those who are adopted over the age of two or three—although many older adopted children adjust well to their new families.

Two other at-risk groups are children abused at any age and those who lived with many families before their adoption occurred.