There are millions of children born without a loving family. The reasons vary from social stigmas to laws, but every child should have a good home. Adoption is a simple solution to the issue. But adoptions are hindered by the color of skin. Whether the reasons are legal, ethical, cultural or social, ethnicity has always played a significant role in adoption when it shouldn’t matter at all. Transracial adoption should be encouraged, not hindered.
Orphanages have often had a negative social stigma, and parentless children are pitted. People often visit or volunteer at orphanages and then share that they want to help the children. But they don’t realize the easier thing for them to do is to adopt. Although it may be a long process, adoption gives children a family they didn’t have before.
Adoption is widespread among potential parents that aren’t able to naturally conceive. Adults also adopt for various other reasons, like the ability to choose the sex of the children, to avoid genetic disorders and pregnancy complications. But one’s ethnic background can sadly hinder the process. Every child should have a good home no matter where the family members are from.
Many would think a child’s local community would want what’s best for the child if the parents were unable to care for the child properly. Hopefully, nothing would stand in the way of giving a child a good home. The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA) was meant to keep Native American child in their indigenous community, but lately, its effectiveness is questioned.
The ICWA was passed in response to a crisis among the Native population. In the late 70’s, about a third of all Native children were removed from their family by child protective services. The issue is that 85% of those children were placed outside of their communities when suitable relatives were available. Striving to “protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families,” the ICWA allows children to be placed in homes that “reflect the unique values of Indian culture” (US Congress, 1978, Section 3). On paper, the act sounds meaningful, but the results aren’t always the best. The legislation makes it possible for children to be moved far away from their home so that they can live with an Indian family. But is moving far away from the only home a child’s ever known what’s best for them?
Currently, Native American communities are in a cycle of poor parenting. Children are being born to parents that aren’t ready, and then the child doesn’t receive proper attention or care. Child abuse, rape and substance abuse are getting increasingly common among Native Americans. Spirit Lake, North Dakota had the highest percentage of sex offenders in the US in 2012 (Riley, 2017, para 8). In addition, “an estimated one out of every four girls and one out of every six boys in Indian country is molested before the age of eighteen” (Riley, 2017, para 8) which is appalling. The low-quality parenting leads to high numbers of children removed from their homes. Mark Fiddler, former public defender, and Turtle Mountain tribe member notes that “Indian children are being removed from their homes at a higher rate than children of other races” (as cited in Riley, 2017, para 10-11). Fiddler believes there’s a dysfunctional cycle of parenting in Indian communities being passed on (as cited in Riley, 2017, para 11). Poor parenting in communities ultimately leads to unsuitable parents for adoption and foster care so the solution is to allow non-Native parents to foster/adopt.
Tribes prefer that a child removed from their home remains in the community so they can be surrounded by native culture as they grow up which is understandable. But more often than not, no Native American parents are willing and able to care for the children. Thus, parents outside the native community foster/adopt the children. The problem is when the tribe steps into the custody battle. Tribes have an overwhelming amount of clout when it comes to the custody of Native American children thanks to the ICWA. If a child can’t be kept in the community, then they could be sent counties or states away to live with other Native American parents. The tribe’s preferences are ultimately put above the needs of the child which isn’t right. Indigenous culture is important, but giving a child a loving home is paramount. If tribes are so concerned with keeping their culture alive, then there is a simple solution. Allow children of Native descent to be adopted by non-Native parents as long as they teach the child about their Native culture. In today’s society, immersing oneself in another culture is fairly easy because of technology and modern transportation.
For four years, a little girl had lived with her foster family in Santa Clarita, CA. The parents adored her and wanted to adopt her. But Lexi is 1.6% Choctaw. Her adoptive parents were no longer allowed to foster Lexi and couldn’t adopt her because of the ICWA. Lexi was then sent “to live with another family hundreds of miles away in Utah” (Dynar and Sandefur, 2016, para 1) because of her race. The changing of homes multiple times could have lasting effects on Lexi. Children need a stable and reliable home.
The ICWA allows for any child with the slightest amount of Native ancestry to be moved far from their home to live with Native parents. But is this really what’s best for the children? Why is the child’s race so overpowering? The Goldwater Institute is among the many institutions fighting to change the ICWA. Arguing uneven though ‘separate but equal’ was found unconstitutional decades ago, the principle is still in power. According to Indian standards, the law is “separate and substandard” (Dynar and Sandefur, 2016, para 3). Preventing children from finding good homes should be the ultimate goal for social workers, but their job is curtailed because of an outdated law. The Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994 abolishes the racial factor in denying or delaying adoptions in the US, but the ICWA is a loophole (Dynar and Sandefur, 216, para 6). The US government may claim to have a non-discrimination policy, but apparently, that doesn’t include Native Americans.
In Canada, the government was sued for breaching its duty of care by placing 16,000 indigenous children in non-aboriginal homes from 1965-1984 under a federal-provincial agreement for 1.3 billion Canadian dollars. The plaintiffs won and “the judge also found that Ottawa breached part of the agreement that required consultation with Indian bands about the child-welfare program” (Perkel, 2017, para 4). Ontario Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba, the presiding judge, said that even if the tribes were properly consulted, “no meaningful advice or ideas would have been forthcoming” (as cited in Perkel, 2017, para 8). But maybe, by consulting the tribes, the whole court case could have been avoided.
Marcia Brown Martel, the lead plaintiff, who was adopted in 1972 at nine years old by a non-aboriginal couple, had her original identity was declared dead by the government. When she learned of the court decision, she said “a great weight was lifted from my heart… Our voices were finally heard and listened to. Our pain was acknowledged” (as cited in Perkel, 2017, para 11).
Foster home abuse issues were not the main issue in the case, but the importance of preserving and protecting indigenous cultures and traditions, especially their concept of extended family. By placing children in non-aboriginal homes, the children lost part of their heritage the government can’t give back. The adolescent years of growing up in an indigenous community can never be rewarded. Grown up children can only immerse themselves in their culture in their adult years.
Martel’s class-action lawsuit argues that interethnic adoption should be avoided whenever possible to preserve one’s culture and traditions. While protecting cultures is important, the child’s’ needs seemed to be absent from the case. Was placing them in non-aboriginal homes what was best for them? There was no evidence that the children grew up any worse in a non-aboriginal home.
Even though the United States and Canada have a race-blind adoption policy, for some reason, indigenous people are excluded. The reasons for this are endless, but the laws need to be updated so all children can find a good home.
The United States and Canada aren’t the only countries with adoption drawbacks. The United Kingdom also has issues with culture matching. BBC presenter, Nicky Campbell, believes that adopted children face “‘an identity crisis’ because of difference with their adoptive family,” (as cited in Foster, 2016, para 3). He continues saying that coming from a different culture and looking completely different, “it’s like a triple whammy” (as cited in Foster, 2016, para 5) of identity crises. Campbell, who was adopted himself, thinks ethnicity should be factored into adoption. “It’s complicated” (as cited in Foster, 2016, para 10) Campbell said. There is no evidence that interethnic adoptions are worse than others, but the chief executive of Adoption UK, Hugh Thornbery, agrees with Campbell saying that “you can’t be completely colour blind” (as cited in Foster, 2016, para 9). Campbell feels more minorities need to step up to adopt which is a massive goal (as cited in Foster, 2016, para 10). Officially, the parents in the UK are turned down because of their cultural heritage or something weird like lack of childcare experience. Of course, new parents lack experience, that’s why they want a child, to gain the experience. Buitable parents are denied and told to try elsewhere because of their lack of white skin.
Sandeep Mander and his wife are British citizens, born and raised. Their parents immigrated from India, but that doesn’t make the Mander culturally Indian. Mander and his wife consider themselves British and ethnically Indian. The Manders are also non-practicing Sikhs even though they both attended Catholic schools. Although they have a nice house, a steady income and everything else prospective parents need, they were still denied. Adopt Berkshire prefers to match culturally similar parents and children; and since there isn’t an abundance of Sikh children, they were told to adopt from India. “But India has so many diverse cultures and religions: Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Christians and more– how could we [the Manders] have ensured the cultural match they thought was so important?” (Mander, 2018, para 8). Despite the Manders efforts, they were unable to adopt from their home country. Mander and his wife “have been approved to adopt a child from the USA by the Department of Education in the UK” (Mander, 2017, para10).
A previous not so successful interracial adoption story might have influenced the decision, but one not-so-perfect foster family doesn’t mean that all foster parents are bad. The Tower Hamlets placed “a white Christian girl– one old enough to understand her identity– with foster parents who appear to have tried to convert her to Islam” (Mander, 2017, para 13). Mander believes ethnicity should have been considered, especially in the Tower Hamlets case, “but it should not be the overriding factor” (Mander, 2017, para 12). Many factors go into an adoption decision, but a potential parent’s ethnicity shouldn’t be an overpowering con especially when compared to multiple pros like a steady income and no criminal record.
Those opposed to interracial adoption believe adoptive parents are too naive about racism in America. But they don’t realize there are solutions to the problem. Every case is different and has unique needs, but nothing should stop a child from belonging to a good home. For example, an adoptive child from a minority ethnic group in their new community would likely feel very vulnerable, uncomfortable and have trouble fitting in. In cases like this, race should be accounted for because that situation is probably not the best for them. Adoption is about giving a child a forever home where they can feel loved and appreciated. In another case, in a diverse community, coming from a biracial family means practically nothing to peers. Adoptive children will more than likely feel very comfortable and not feel insecure about their family’s skin color.
Parents adopting a child with a different skin color must be equipped to handle the potential negative reputations and comments. In today’s society, prospective parents are silly to think a child could grow up color blind. Hopefully, their grandchildren can, but racism is still very prevalent in society even after all of the attempts to change it. Adoption changes an adults life tremendously no matter what the child looks like. Parents must always be prepared to face negative social stigmas. Darron Smith, a doctor in education, culture, and society who has researched transracial adoption, “believes that few Whites are truly equipped to help Black children prepare for survival in America” (Dunham, 2012, para 12). Smith goes on saying that White parents would need a whole new circle of friends and “move to an integrated neighborhood and unlearn the racist history you [they] learned about being an American” (as cited in Dunham, 2012, para 12). In the end, Smith thinks people would be “a very different White person” (as cited in Dunham, 2012, para 12). Although Smith is slightly opposed to transracial adoption, there are parents who followed some of his advice.
According to Dunham, Rachel Garlinghouse, a Caucasian adoptive mother of two African American girls, has overcome the negative attitudes associated with her biracial family. Her daughters, Ella, 3, and Emery, 1, aren’t old enough understand their identity yet, but others make assumptions for them. People stare an “assume the girls can dance and touch their hair” (Dunham, 2012 para 11) and Garlinghouse cleverly responds to racist comments and questions with facts and sharp quips. Garlinghouse teaches her daughters about Ruby Bridges and Rosa Parks to help prepare them to fight injustice. To Garlinghouse, being transracial adoptive parents aren’t just educating their children about a few things, but “a lifetime of experiences, resources and relationships… to raise a successful, confident children” (as cited in Dunham, 2012, para 11).
Sarah Smith, a newborn was adopted by White missionaries, grew up on a Haitian compound. Dunham writes that Smith was “immersed in a culture, with both Black and White siblings” (2012, para 10) and was able to develop a strong sense of herself. Smith, now 26, says that growing up, “we didn’t know all-Black or all-White families… We just knew diversity” (as cited in Dunham, 2012, para 10).
Whether it’s domestic or abroad, transracial adoption should be encouraged, not thwarted by laws and societal values. Of course, there are sad stories about adoption, but the happy stories outweigh the bad. Probably the most famous example being The Blind Side which is based on the true story of the Tuohys adopting Michael Oher. The heartfelt story shows how a biracial family forms and overcomes social stigmas. Adopting may not be everyone’s first choice, but nothing should stand in the way of giving a child a loving home.
Dunham, K. J. (2012, Sep). White mama, black baby. Essence, , 160-161. Retrieved from https://sks.sirs.com
Dynar, A., & Sandefur, T. (2016, 25 March ). For This 6-Year-Old, the Law Sees Only Race. The Wall Street Journal.
Foster, P. (2016, 05 Jul). Adoption from a different race harms children, says BBC star. Daily Telegraph Retrieved from https://sks.sirs.com
Mander, S. (2017, 02 Sep). Too indian to adopt. The Spectator (London), Retrieved from https://sks.sirs.com
Perkel, C. (2017, 14 Feb). Judge sides with ’60s scoop survivors; damages now to be decided. Canadian Press Retrieved from https://sks.sirs.com
Schaefer Riley, N. (2017, 03-10 Jul). Put the kids first. Weekly Standard, , 18-19. Retrieved from https://sks.sirs.com
US Congress (1978, 8 Nov). Indian Child Welfare Act. US Congress https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/comp2/F095-608.html