There are an estimated 1.5 million adopted children in the United States, over 2% of all U.S. children. Of those adoptions, approximately 8% are transracial adoptions, although reliable and recent data on this is difficult to come by. A compelling documentary called “Off and Running,” (POV) aired recently on PBS. Here’s a short (2:36) clip:
Transracial adoption is controversial. In 1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers issued a statement that took “a vehement stand against the placements of black children in white homes for any reason,” calling transracial adoption “unnatural,” “artificial,” “unnecessary,” and proof that African-Americans continued to be assigned to “chattel status.” However, a couple of mid-1990s laws prohibit race from determining adoption placement. The Howard M. Metzenbaum Multiethnic Placement Act of 1994 (MEPA), prohibits an adoption agency that receives Federal assistance from delaying or denying the placement of a child on the basis of the race, color, or national origin of the adoptive or foster parent, or the child involved. And a 1996 change to MEPA, the Interethnic Adoption Provisions (IEP), forbids agencies from denying or delaying placement of a child for adoption solely on the basis of race or national origin.
Research about how adopted children do later in life, often called outcome studies, pretty consistently show that adopted kids do ok. There’s comparatively little research on transracial adoption, but what there is suggests that these kids do ok, too. One review of a dozen studies consistently indicate that approximately 75% of transracially adopted preadolescent and younger children adjust well in their adoptive homes. (Silverman, A.R. (1993). Outcomes of transracial adoption. The Future of Children, 3(1), 104-118.). A 1996 study found that transracial adoption was not detrimental for the adopted child in terms of adjustment, self-esteem, academic achievement, peer relationships, parental and adult relationships.(Sharma, A.R., McGue, M.K. and Benson, P.L. (1996). The emotional and behavioral adjustment of United States adopted adolescents: part 1. An overview. Children & Youth Services Review, 18, 83-100.)
Still, transracial adoption within a society that is anything but post-racial means that it can be complicated, as Avery’s story in the documentary highlights. For an excellent sociological analysis of transracial adoption that deftly combines personal insight with critical observations, I highly recommend Barbara Katz Rothman’s Weaving a Family: Untangling Race and Adoption (Beacon Press, 2006). And, if you’re a parent coming to terms with issues around transracial adoption, I also recommend the blog Love Isn’t Enough.