Transracial Adoption: what do the proponents and opponents say?

With more and more celebrities adopting children from different racial and/or cultural backgrounds than themselves, some of you may be wondering what experts say on inter-racial, or ‘transracial’ adoption, and what laws pertain to this issue. This article serves to briefly summarize key points on this issue.

“What is transracial adoption? Transracial adoption is the placement of infants and children of one race with parents of another race. Black children are more likely to be in foster care than white children, stay in foster care longer, and thus, are more likely to undergo multiple placements. Due to the developmental risks associated with long-term residence in foster care, a few strategies have been attempted to reduce the number of children in the welfare system (Taylor&Thornton, 1996). Transracial adoption is one of the most controversial methods currently being utilized to improve the welfare of black children” (from Issues in Transracial Adoption, Maureen McManus.)

Proponents of transracial adoption argue that transracial adoption is a preferable alternative to foster care. In the United States the majority of families wishing to adopt a child are white, and about half of the adoptable children in foster care are black (The New Republic, 1994). A simple solution would be to place the black children into the homes of white people, but the controversy over race-mixing has kept thousands of black children in foster care, though many white families are willing to adopt them. The National Association of Black Social Workers has discouraged the transracial adoption process by calling it “cultural genocide” (The New Republic, 1994). Other black groups, such as The National Association for Advancement of Colored People protested the statement and adopted a resolution to support it. The case in favor of transracial adoption comes primarily from empirical studies. Studies have repeatedly found that transracial adoption is a good situation for the children and families (Simon&Altstein, 1996). One study found that children made as successful an adjustment in their adoptive homes as other non-white chidren had in prior studies. According to this study’s results, seventy-seven percent of the children had adjusted successfully. Other studies have also shown that the foster care system produces adults who are developmentally disabled, socially isolated, highly unemployed, and are over-represented in the homeless population (Taylor&Thornton, 1996).

A controversial area of transracial adoption concerns issues of identity development. Proponents of transracial adoption believe that black children will not lose their identity if they’re adopted by white parents. Group identity is defined as “a bond with a racial group whose members are perceived by themselves and others to have a common origin and culture, and shared activities in which the common origin or culture is an essential ingredient”(Taylor&Thornton, 1996). The job of parents in socializing black children involves two areas. The first is standard socialization experiences and practices. The second is providing black children with skills to counter the impact of racial prejudice and discrimination and develop a healthy sense of self as a person of color (Taylor&Thornton, 1996).

Proponents of transracial adoption argue that adoption provides a permanent loving home for children who would otherwise languish in the out-of-home care system, and that the race of the potential adoptive parent should be irrelevant (Courtney, 1997). They believe that what’s in the best interest of a black child stuck in the child welfare system is to become part of a nurturing loving family, who will provide stability to the child’s life, regardless of whether the adopting family is black or white or of other cultural/racial background. Supporters of transracial adoption feel that families wanting to adopt should not be judged on their skin color, but instead on their ability to provide a good home and to be good parents. Otherwise, black children in foster care will not find homes, and suffer the consequences associated with long term foster care.

Opponents of transracial adoption are concerned that black children will lose their racial identity if they’re adopted by white parents. They also claim that black children will lose their cultural, physical, and psychological identity if adopted by parents of another race. The National Association of Black Social Workers is one group opposed to the placement of black children into white homes. This group is opposed to transracial adoption for these reasons: 1) to preserve African-American families and culture; 2) to enable black children to appreciate their origin by living with a family of the same race; 3) to enable black children to learn to cope with racism and learn how to function around it; and 4) to help make it easier for African-American families to adopt. Many black groups believe that if black children, who have not yet established a sense of racial identity, are adopted into white families, they will have diffuculty coping with prejudice and discrimination. Those without a strong sense of racial identity may internalize racist behavior directed toward them, resulting in a variety of negative outcomes, such as psychological distress (The New Republic, 1994). Also, individuals with poorly developed racial identity may become isolated. They may reject their black peers, while at the same time may never feel socially accepted by their white peers.

In 1972 The National Association of Black Social Workers’ president stated “We are opposed to transracial adoption as a solution to permanent placement for black children. We have an ethic, moral, and professional obligation to oppose transracial adoption. We are therefore legally justified in our efforts to protect the rights of black children, black families, and the black community. It is a blatant form of racial and cultural genocide” (Simon&Altstein, 1996). Then, in 1994, The National Association of Black Social Workers restated their position saying that “Transracial adoption should only be considered after documented evidence of unsuccessful same-race placements have been reviewed and supported by appropriate representatives of the African-American community (Simon&Altstein, 1996). Opponents of transracial adoption believe that public agencies do not try hard enough to find qualified black families interested in adoption, and the criteria required by these agencies discriminates against black families who cannot meet their standards.

The laws regarding transracial adoption are governed by the same laws as regular adoptions. “Each state has a set of statutes regulating the placement and adoption of children” (Simon&Altstein, 1996). These statutes state that the goal of the adoption law is to serve in the best interests of the child. Most of these statutory statements do not mention race in connection with the adoption process. However, nineteen jurisdictions do refer solely to race in their adoption laws. “Ten of these jurisdictions provide that the race of one or more of the parties directly affected by the adoption is to be included in the petition for adoption or listed as a finding in a court ordered or statute mandated investigation” (Simon&Altstein, 1996). The statutes are silent as to how agencies should use this information in final decisions of adoption. It inadvertently follows that this part of a process that takes race into consideration.

Connecticut, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin all prohibit the use of race to deny an adoption or placement. Three states, Arkansas, California, and Minnesota, have laws that specifically require preference for adoption within the same racial group. “The first preference is for a blood relative, the second for a family of the same race as the child, and the last for placement with a family knowledgeable and appreciative of the child’s racial or ethnic heritage” (Simon&Altstein, 1996). Analysis of past court rulings indicate that the courts are wiling to allow race in the consideration of adoption placements. However, there is no single approach to the legal analysis of the consideration of race in adoption. It is certain that the use of race as the only reason to make or break an adoption placement is condemned under any approach.
How You Can Help Your Child To Become a Stable, Happy, Healthy Individual With a Strong Sense of Racial or Cultural Identity is an article that discusses seven parenting techniques compiled from books and articles on adoption and by interviewing experts in transracial and transcultural adoption. Some of these “techniques” are common sense and apply to all adopted children, but others are specific to transracially or transculturally adopted children.


1 “African-American Leadership Group Condemns Racist Adoption Practices.” Project 21

2 “All in the Family.” The New Republic, January 24, 1994, pp6-7.

3 Christ, Fran. “When Whites Adopt Blacks.” PLAN Preadoption Course, May 1990, pp.1-3.

4 Courtney, Mark, “The Politics and Realities of Transracial Adoption.” Child Welfare, Nov/Dec 1997, vLXXVI n6, pp.749-773.

5 Simon, Rita and Altstein, Howard, “The Case for Transracial Adoption.” Children and Youth Services Review, 1996, v18 n1/2, pp.5-12.

6 Taylor, Robert and Thornton, Michael, “Child Welfare and Transracial Adoption.” Journal of Black Psychology, May 1996, v22 n2, pp.282-291.


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