ADOPTION: SEGREGATION, MOSAIC OR MELTING POT?
M. Allan Cooperstein, Ph.D.
published as Cooperstein, M.A. (1998, May). Pennsylvania Psychologist Quarterly,
58(5), 20-21. (20 page version
Segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever!
George C. Wallace
We become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic.
I hear that melting-pot stuff a lot, and all I can say is that we havent melted
Transracial placement involves the placing of children in foster
or adoptive homes with a family of another race and/or culture. Placements either are made by public or private agencies, or
may be independent. Most often, Transracial Adoptions (TRAs) occur through the public
child welfare system.
For one year, I counseled (for unrelated issues) a Caucasian
couple who had been foster parenting an African-American child, from 9 days of age to near 1 year. During this time, I
witnessed the emergence of a loving bond between parents and child that transcended racial differences
and a healthy growth in the child and the adults. Recently, although they wished to adopt the
boy as their son, the foster parents learned that they would have to surrender him to a childless,
same-race couple related to the biological mother. The enormous emotional impact upon the parents and
concern over the child reaction to being separated from them motivated my need to examine the issues
associated with TRA.
Adoption denials may be challenged as violations of the due
process rights of Caucasian foster parents wishing to adopt African-American children and
a violation of the rights of the children themselves. It was necessary, however, to look beyond the legal mechanisms and evaluate TRA itself in
the light of informative research.
During the mid-seventies, controversy arose over Caucasian
adoptions of African-American children, the arguments favoring TRA being based largely on speculations that African-American
communities could not provide same-race adoptive parents and that raising Black children in Caucasian
homes was better than an institution or foster home. Questions were raised by African-Americans
over whether TRA met childrens' needs, and whether TRA might not harm African-American
child by causing them to lose a sense of racial and cultural identity and the ability to relate to
The Federal Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA) of 1994 provided an
even greater impetus for TRA, preventing placement discrimination on the basis of race,
color, or national origin, thereby catalyzing an increased recruitment of foster and adoptive parents, and increasing the
number of adoptions.
After two decades of research, considerable disagreement exists
over the benefits of TRA. Early
concerns expressed the doubt that the benefits of Caucasian parents adopting an
African-American child at a younger age did not outweigh the disadvantage of adoptive
failures. Without definitive studies of the adult personalities of Caucasian-raised African-Americans, placements should not proceed
under the assumption that TRA is beneficial (Chimezie, 1975). Although the majority of
African-Americans surveyed by Howard, Royse, and Skerl (1977) believed it to be of greater
importance for Black children to receive love from Caucasian parents than placement in
foster care or an institution, they also expressed apprehension over a possible loss of
identification with the African-American community, a concern that has since received some support.
Personal self-esteem among TRA adoptees tends to be generally
good. However, most White, adoptive families rarely discuss racial issues or associate
with African-Americans. Consequently, TRA adoptees may perceive themselves as different from children of their own race, expressing negative
attitudes towards them. Some families acknowledge racial identity, provide same-race role
models, and live in integrated neighborhoods. The TRA children in these families show
greater interest in contact with African-Americans and discussing racial identity issues
with parents and peers. Other families adopted several African-American children and were
considered interracial families, emphasizing racial heritage and providing a psychological
support network (McRoy, Zurcher, Lauderdale, and Anderson, 1984).
Longitudinal studies appear to demonstrate that, although a sense
of racial identity may be maintained by TRA children, the strength of this identification is not as enhanced as that found in
same-race families. African-American identities of children from in-racial placements
exceeded that of TRAs by the time they reached 8 years of age (Shireman & Johnson,
1986; Johnson, Shireman, & Watson, 1987).
Research: Bias, Methodological Flaws, and Conflicting Paradigms
One prominent argument against the validity of TRA research with
African-American children is that it has been largely Eurocentric, or based upon European values and expectations,
rather than Africentric. A purported African personality construct has been posited, differing in psychological
functioning from European personality types (Azibo, 1988, 1990, 1991). Although the
African personality construct has not been widely supported or applied to TRA research, a
recent study indicates that the adjustment of TRA children declined significantly over a
10 year period. Adoptees experienced difficulty becoming competent with Africentric and Eurocentric reference group orientations, displaying
greater Eurocentric reference group orientation (DeBerry, Scarr, and Weinberg, 1996).
Another problem facing researchers is that families living in a
post-integration society may deny racism or any racially-problems related to the TRA child. Crucial factors, such as the
developmental status of the adoptee, have not been examined as an important determining
factor for positive outcomes.
Finally, the difficulties of African-American opponents of TRA in
providing appropriate empirical support may have resulted in judicial decisions favoring
TRA, while African-American researchers cope with challenges in conducting research on
Caucasian families that impact upon their ability to receive grants for research relevant
to their interests.
The Future: TRA from Forensic and Treatment Perspectives
With the exception of MEPA, adoption law is generally State law.
All states have provided statutes governing the process by which a legal parent-child
relationship is created between individuals not biologically parent and child. Some states
having doctrines of "equitable adoption" allow courts to legally recognize adoptions even when all statutory procedures have not been completed.
Consequently, a forensic psychologist who is called in on a TRA case should review MEPA and the adoption
laws of ones own State. Parent-child relationships established by adoption may, however,
have direct consequences in fields of Federal law.
Griffith & Duby (1991) examined the historical underpinnings
of the current TRA dispute. Examining trends following the Supreme Court's declaration that judicial standards must preempt
community values in the area of race, they contend that community preferences for same-race families
and the biased norms of mental health professionals continue to impact upon opinion in the legal
arena. While policymakers invoke the language but, perhaps, not the spirit of mental
health in their arguments, mental health practitioners should be aware of the ongoing debate and uncertainty over
TRAs. TRA judicial denials may be challenged as violations of the due process rights of
Caucasian foster parents wishing to adopt African-American children and a violation of the
rights of the children themselves.
One approach to this matter is the use of Bonding Assessments.
These are used to determine whether to return a child to a parent from whom s/he was removed, when two or more families claim
custody of the child, when opposing psychological, social or legal professionals disagree on which
potential caretaker can best meet the child's needs, and when transracial adoptions are
considered. The bonding Interview is the primary tool in the assessment and consists of a
semi-structured observational session in which evaluators provides materials and gives the
adult-child dyad a series of tasks (Stokes and Strothman, 1996).
Research has shown mixed outcomes associated with TRA. Although
personal self-esteem has been favorable, reference group esteem does not fare so well, as
predicted in the '70s. Although supporters and opponents of TRA agree that minority children available for adoption have the right
and need to develop a sense of ethnic identity and knowledge of their cultural origins,
TRA issues have generated tension and accusations of racial bias in the application of
scientific methodology and interpretations. For the ultimate welfare of these children, multiracial research efforts are needed so
placements may be made without bias, setting aside personal and cultural differences. The benefits reaped
would also help agencies who facilitate TRAs, provide information applicable to other racial/ethnic
groups of foster care and adoptive children, address issues related to bonding and
permanency effects, and better inform us about the developmental consequences of breaking
bonds developed early in the formative years.
For the present, psychologists dealing with TRA should
Become familiar with the issues.
Assess appropriate racial, gender, and alternative life-style
values of the family, neighborhood, extended family, school, and community.
Encourage cultural diversity in the family/home.
Help parents avoid token diversity and recommend finding materials
and visual representations that accurately reflect childrens in-country experiences.
Recommend against limiting organization of activities only around
cultural holidays or food.
Avoid tokenism, such as one Black doll amidst many White dolls, or
only one book about any cultural group.
Be aware of unfair practices in your agency, practice, or
community that affect the lives of your clients.
Address the lack of ethnic-sensitive toys, literature, and
children's books at your treatment facility.
Seek assistance through
Workshops: e.g., Racism Issues and
Multiracial Families, Jim Mahoney, MSW, 1220 South Division, Spokane, WA 99202.
Organizations: e.g., the National Association of Black Social
Workers (NABSW), 1969 Madison Ave.,
New York, NY 10035 and
New York State Citizens' Coalition for
Children (NYSCCC), Inc.,
306 East State Street, Suite 220, Ithaca, NY 14850.
Reading Materials: Transracial Adoptive Parenting: A Black
White Community Issue by
Leora Neal and Al Stumph
(available through NABSW).
We Americans have the chance to
become someday a nation in which all radical stocks and classes can exist in their own
selfhoods, but meet on a basis of respect and equality and live together, socially,
economically, and politically. We can become a dynamic equilibrium, a harmony of many
different elements, in which the whole will be greater than all its parts and greater than
any society the world has seen before. It can still happen.
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clinical, and social psychological research on Blacks: Appropriate and inappropriate
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Azibo, D. A. (1990). Treatment and
training implications of the advances in African personality theory. The Western
Journal of Black Studies, 14, 53-65.
Azibo, D. A. (1991). Towards a
metatheory of the African personality. Special Issue: Incorporating an African world view
into psychology: II. Journal of Black Psychology, 17(2) 37-45.
Chimezie, A. (1975). Transracial
adoption of black children. Social Work, 20(4), 296-301.
DeBerry, K. M., Scarr, S., &
Weinberg, R. (1996). Family racial socialization and ecological competence: Longitudinal
assessments of African-American transracial adoptees. Child Development, 67(5),
Griffith, E. E., & Duby, J. L.
(1991). Recent developments in the transracial adoption debate.
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of Psychiatry & the Law Bulletin of the American Academy
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Skerl, J. A. (1977). Transracial adoption: The Black community perspective. Social
Work, 22(3), 184-189.
Johnson, P. R., Shireman, J. F.,
& Watson, K. W. (1987) Transracial adoption and the development of Black identity at
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McRoy, R. G., Zurcher, L. A.,
Landerdale, M. L., & Anderson, R. E. (1984). Social Casework, 65(1) 34-39.
Shireman, J. F.& Johnson, P. R.
(1986). A longitudinal study of Black adoptions: Single parent, transracial, and
traditional. Social Work, 31(3), 172-176.
Stokes, J. C. & Strothman, L.
J. (1996). The use of bonding studies in child welfare permanency planning. Child &
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