Adoption can be a complicated subject. As much as it is about “family” and “love” and “forever”, it is also about “loss”, and a myriad of social justice issues that bend both ways. Without a doubt, there are children all over the world who are “unparented” and who are being raised by state agencies in a constellation of private homes and institutions. Most of these children have experienced abandonment, abuse or neglect by their birth parents, and are living in care without the possibility of reunification either because their parents are unable or unwilling to care for them. While science has found that being institutionalized in orphanages is worse by far for children’s development, being without parents has an impact even when high quality foster care is a possibility (and many times it isn’t)–which means adoption into a family is really and truly the best option for kids who can’t be reunified with biological family and also that time is valuable for these vulnerable children.
But the relationship between adoption and race includes a deep and dark history that includes, to name a few, removing Native American babies from families so that they could be “mainstreamed”, and trafficked babies in international adoptions (Mother Jones). As adoption across racial lines became more commonplace, the legacy of slavery and racism in the US has also been invoked; as well, a number of adoptees have criticized trans-cultural adoption, citing a loss of identity and in some cases moving back to their country of origin–as this devastating article about South Korean adoptees discusses. Each kind of adoption, international, private, and foster care, brings up its own series of discussions, at each different level of the adoption process. What does it mean when it costs less to adopt black children than it costs to adopt white children? Why is it that some Americans prefer to adopt babies from African countries rather than the newborns born in the US being adopted by others internationally? Is it ideal (or even ok) for children to be of a different race or ethnicity than their parents?
Perhaps especially for foster care adoption in the United States, one of the more concerning realities is that there are a disproportionate number of children with black or brown skin are removed to foster care, and who then have parental rights terminated (and thus become available for adoption through foster care).
One of the biggest disparities between the percentage of children put in foster care, and who ultimately have parental rights terminated, is of black/AA children, who represent 23.1% of kids in foster care waiting to be adopted, but only 13.8% of the total population of children in the US (childwelfare.gov, 2016). There are even slightly larger disparities for Native American children. To contrast, white children make up 43.2% of the population of children waiting to be adopted through foster care, but 51.9% of the total population of children in the US (childwelfare.gov, 2016).
Data Source: childwelfare.gov, 2016
Factors such as race, ethnicity, and income level have all been shown to affect the outcomes of social services intervention. Put simply, racism and systemic bias are a problem in social services application, and lead to a disproportionate removal of children from homes. Poverty is also a factor–there are disproportionate numbers black and brown individuals in poverty, which leads to increased contact with social welfare agencies and has also been cited as a factor in disproportionate numbers of children being removed to foster care. One study in Texas shows that black families who had lower “risk” scores than white families still had their children removed at higher rates (Dettlaff, et.al., 2011). There’s no getting around it, the system fails many families because it enshrines racist and otherwise biased practices .
This is enough on its own to make a prospective parent run for the hills, or at least to look into alternatives to picking up this social hot potato.
This is the kind of issue that made me want to start this blog, and one that I’m looking to forward to exploring more deeply in upcoming posts. When I was first seriously thinking about adoption, I found the vast majority of blogs about adoption in general, and especially from foster care, are also deeply aligned with strong faith in religion and, if you haven’t guessed it–that’s not me. I’m just a regular old cerebral secular progressive (I wouldn’t really use those words to describe myself in real life–but they do a pretty good job).
While I do think religious calling is a great reason to adopt — kids need families, and people with open hearts who feel called through their faith to adopt are a great resource — my choice to adopt isn’t faith-based. I need to go deeper into understanding and I just wasn’t finding those discussions on any of the adoption blogs that I could find (though I do appreciate Rage Against the Minivan time and again). I, personally, needed to explore the social causes and concerns surrounding adoption and come to understandings based on available social science–that’s what I’m trying to do here.
To be continued, in Part II of “Woke Adoption?”