“The National Association of Black Social Workers has taken a vehement stand against the placement of Black children in white homes for any reason. 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.”
–From the National Association of Black Social Workers Position Statement on Trans-Racial Adoptions, September 1972.
“Jane” looked a bit puzzled as the middle-aged, African-American woman approached her in a grocery store in her small Texas hometown and asked her if she remembered her.
The woman reminded her of a conversation they’d had in a restaurant a year or so before when Jane, who is Hispanic, stood in line ordering food for her family, including her husband, who is white, and three of their children, who are African-American. The woman had confronted her, asking her why she had “their” children. Taken aback, Jane responded that they were her children because she and her husband had adopted them, loved them, and took care of them. The woman told her emphatically that white people should not be able to adopt black children. Jane explained that she believes children need to be loved and cared for regardless of race. She then challenged the woman, asking her how many children she had fostered, adopted, or mentored.
Trans-racial adoption has been a much-talked-about and debated topic for decades. The 1972 position statement by the NABSW may seem to some as quite extreme and perhaps a product of its era, but it’s interesting to note that, in spite of subsequent statements apparently aimed at “clarifying” its meaning, the statement itself has never been retracted.
The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), passed in 1978, gives preference for adoptions and foster care placements of Native American children, some of whom have mere traces of Native American blood, to Native American families over families of any other race.
Though the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act of 1994 (MEPA) prohibited the use of a child’s or prospective parent’s race to delay or deny placement, it does not trump ICWA, and it did not change the minds of many in the system that children need to be in families that look like them.
Racism in foster care and adoption isn’t limited to policies or social workers and professionals with biases, unfortunately.
Just before we moved from California to Virginia in 2016, our social worker called about a newborn baby girl who was found abandoned and partially buried a few miles from our home. She needed a home, but social workers were having a hard time finding one. Though we knew it would likely delay our move, we told our worker that if no one had opened their home to her by mid-morning the next day, we would take her. We asked the worker why it was so hard to place her, and she bluntly replied, “Because she’s black.” Keep in mind that this was Los Angeles County, as diverse and progressive a community as anywhere. ere are numerous Christian foster/adoptive families in the area. A healthy newborn baby girl needed a home, though, and no one would give her one, because of her race. That should not be. Thankfully, a family did finally step forward to take her in.
Various studies have looked at the impact of trans- racial adoption on adoptees over time. A 2016 article in Psychology Today reports that “A recent study adds to substantial evidence that concerns about trans-racial placement have been overblown and that, in fact, children are capable of developing a solid sense of identity and family regardless of the racial composition of their families.” (“Is Transracial Adoption Harmful to Kids” by Rebecca Compton, Ph.D., May 11, 2016)
As a follower of Christ, a foster and adoptive parent, and an advocate for children in foster care, my opinions are based less on scientific studies, and more on how I see the best interests of children in light of God’s word, and my own experiences with the system and the children who have come into our home. I simply think that some issues are more urgent for children than whether or not a child grows up with the same skin tone as his or her parents and siblings.
In light of the “substantial evidence” referred to in the above article, and in light of what Scripture calls us to concerning orphans, we need to stop asking whether trans-racial adoption is okay for kids. We need to recognize that it has happened and will continue to happen. We must learn how we can best help children and families adjust to and cope with the reality that they are a multi-racial, and possibly multi-cultural, family who is living in a nation and a world that have been marred by the fall.
We need to be honest with ourselves about our own racist beliefs, latent or not, and beg for help from the Holy Spirit to deal with them once and for all.
God calls us to care for orphans. Period. He doesn’t say we are to care for orphans who look like us. He tells us to care for orphans. Caring for orphans means meeting their needs. Children without families to care for them need families. And the love of a family is far more important than race, or culture.
Psalm 68:5-6 says that God is Father to the fatherless, and that He sets the lonely in families. It doesn’t mean that He sets the lonely in families who look like them.
James 1:27 tells us that pure and faultless religion includes caring for orphans in their distress. There is no asterisk reminding us to care only for orphans who look like us.
God doesn’t call us to discriminate in caring for orphans, so why should we tolerate such discrimination in ourselves or in others?
Over the course of 16 years, my wife and I adopted seven children from the Los Angeles County foster care system, including a daughter who is half-Hispanic, one-quarter Native American (Lumbee), and one-quarter Caucasian. For those who want to race-match in foster care and adoption placements, where is the family for our daughter? Another daughter is half-Cambodian and half-Italian-American. Are families with a similar makeup lining up to adopt? If so, how long should she have waited until the system found them? We have a son who is half-Hispanic, 7/16 Caucasian, and 1/16 Native American (Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska). Got the perfect family for him? No?
According to the latest Adoption and Foster CareAnalysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) report, there are nearly 200,000 white kids in foster care in the United States. There are more than 100,000 black kids and almost 100,000 Hispanic kids. Among the more than 117,000 children waiting for adoptive families, more than 51,000 are white, more than 26,000 are black, and more than 25,000 are Hispanic. More than 60,000 of those children waiting for adoptive families have been in foster care two or more years. With so many kids languishing in foster care, can we really afford to match each according to his or her race? I am guessing most of the waiting children would say no, and I’m guessing God would, too.
I am not suggesting there won’t be issues for you or your child related to race if you adopt trans-racially, but I would argue that the problems will pale in comparison to issues your child would face if he or she had no family at all. Help your child navigate the issues with the help of Scripture, others who have walked the road before you, and experts in the eld. But do so with the knowledge that in Christ, there is neither Jew nor Gentile. The Gospel cuts across racial and cultural lines, and we, as His children, must do the same with our lives and in our families as long as children need homes.
As Jane listened to the woman recount their previous encounter, the woman smiled at her, telling her that, now, a year later, she had nearly completed the licensing process to become a foster/adoptive parent. She told Jane she couldn’t wait for her first placement and that she didn’t care what race the children would be. She now understood how great was the need for families to love kids. Before parting, she thanked Jane and gave her a huge hug.
Amen. — by Johnston Moore
Johnston Moore, a founder of Home Forever, Permanency Advocates for Children, is a member of Grace Church, Long Beach, Calif. He and his family currently live in Virginia.