Woke Adoption? The Relationship between Foster Care and Race (Part I)

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?”



The Foster Kids

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve religiously followed the children hoping to be adopted on Adopt Us Kids (if you’re interested in adoption, you absolutely must check out their photo gallery!).  It is a very moving project, with photos of children who, despite all the disappointment in their young lives, still hope to be part of a permanent family.  There are a handful of children who have really caught me attention over the years.  I can’t really explain why except to say that perhaps it was chemistry or intuition.

When I first started viewing the site, about 6 years ago, there were three siblings from Ohio that really touched my heart.  Eventually, through the site, I could see that two of the siblings were adopted with one still being listed as in search of a family (he did find one, eventually).  This broke my heart, but I wasn’t yet in a place to have children.  A couple years later there was Michael, who was 7 when I first read his profile, and who was just gorgeous and seemed like exactly the spunky, bright-eyed child I was hoping for.  Michael quickly found a home, thank goodness– it wasn’t the right time–I was spending my weeks in another city, and commuting home on the weekends.

It was last year that my husband and I first got serious in adopting from foster care.  While we’d always imagined adopting a child around 6-8 years old, it was “D” from Alabama, a 12-year-old poet who inspired us to get in touch with social services the first time.  D was in the gifted program at her school, and wrote rap songs that were brilliant.  She was so poised and intelligent, I just wanted to be able to provide her a platform where she could grow safely and not worry about being loved as she realized just how powerful she could be.  I inquired about D at that time, but we weren’t home-studied, and before we could get started a family was identified for her (which of course, we were very happy about! We didn’t want her to have to wait for us to get our act together!).   D has now been adopted, and I know she will do so well in this life.

We are planning to work closely with our social worker to find a child or children, and are very excited.  I’ve signed up to attend an adoption party in the upcoming weeks, where children and prospective parents can meet.  I’ve also got my eye on two siblings who are breathtakingly cute (and love to read) a little further south.




First day of Foster Care Parent Training

So, we’re officially “in process”.  Although we always knew adoption would be a part of our parenting journey, after years of infertility, two (very early) miscarriages, and years of religiously reading children’s profiles on Adopt Us Kids, my husband (“P”) and I finally began foster care parent training classes at a social services provider in our town.  These classes, which will last six Saturdays for six hours each are required for parents who wish to adopt through foster care in our state.  Our social worker has already visited our house once, and she will do so again for the “official” home study at the end of the training course.

Not all states require this training, and I went into it feeling a little bit ambivalent.  Shouldn’t all parents have to do some kind of training?  Of course, my rational brain tells me that regular life is training for biological parenting (with some being much better trained than others, no doubt) and that foster-adoption parenting is something special and rare.  In fact, I’m the only person that I know (until today) who has even been interested in foster care adoption.  I need a class.

I have to say, it was cathartic to be in the classroom with so many like-minded people, and where I first thought that six hours would drag on forever (and on a sunny warm Saturday!), it flew by.  We laughed, we cried, we shared.  It was a “training” session, but it was so much more–kind of like a Lamaze class (do people still do Lamaze?) for adoptive parents. I can’t wait to go back!

The class is a mix of the most amazing people, all of whom are there with the intention of adopting through foster care and not just fostering.  While foster parents do an amazing and very difficult job, the goals and intentions are different.  Foster parents go into this knowing they will have children in their homes for a short period of time, maybe a few weeks or a few months, maybe even a single night.  However, all of the future parents in our class are there because they wish to adopt a child permanently.  Because the first goal of foster care is ALWAYS reuniting biological parents and children, foster parents provide a great temporary place where children are safe while parents work to achieve necessary parenting and life goals.  This is so important, and our state is lucky to have a robust and well-funded foster care system (though imperfect, certainly).  Not all children who enter foster care become eligible for adoption.  For this to happen, a judge has terminate a biological parent’s rights and declare them “unfit to parent”.  Adoption only becomes a possibility, and this is where we enter, when these rights have been terminated or (if a child is “legal risk”) if it looks very unlikely that a parent will meet necessary goals.

The class is in a generally progressive city that works hard to accommodate all different viewpoints and lifestyles and this is gorgeously reflected in the roster of the class.  Some of the attendees have children already, most do not.  Some are single, some are coupled in all different permutations, some are teachers, about half are deeply religious.  Everyone has a very different and meaningful path that led them to foster care adoption.  Notably, there are no single men in our class, or two-male couples, which seems like such a shame!  The social worker leading the class joked that in the decades she’s been doing this, she can count on one hand the number of men who have sought to adopt alone–so single men interested in adoption, time to get started!

Although not being able to have biological children is certainly a fine (maybe even a great) and perfectly common reason for deciding to adopt, I think it is worth mentioning that nobody in the class was there because they couldn’t have biological children.  There was a two-female couple who decided to grow their family with adoption and expressed a distaste for “sperm shopping” as would be required for biological reproduction.  There was a male-female couple who were re-starting the foster care process after they became pregnant after 20 years of infertility during their last foster care training class.  There was a woman who said she’d always wished to be a “two mom” family with several children, but she was now a single mom to her son and wanted to follow her dream anyway.  There were those who felt called through their religion to adopt–and others like us who were pursuing assisted reproduction at the same time as adoption through foster care.  Although infertility is a part our story, it isn’t what defines or really even informs our decision to adopt–adoption isn’t an “alternative” to me and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on some key aspect of living a full life.  I hope to one day carry a child, I think it is an amazing and powerful thing that women can do, but my challenge in doing so is not what’s led me here.

The class attendees varied in almost every measure–origin, race, sex, gender, marital status, disability status, religion, politics, education–but the thing that we all had in common was that we all were deeply affected by the thought of some children not growing up with a family.  There we all were, with love and space available, hoping for a very special (to us) child or children to make us parents.