Racism in Adoption
In the wake of the tragedy in Charlottesville, Abrazo feels compelled to take a very public stand against white supremacy, and to openly renew its opposition to racism in adoption, in all its forms. This past weekend, as a 32-year-old paralegal named Heather Heyer was killed by an angry racist with a careening car and a senseless agenda, Abrazo was hosting an orientation group of prospective adoptive parents. (Ironically, it was one of the few in a long time in which every couple in attendance is considering transracial adoptions.) Our hearts go out to Heather’s family and friends, and we condemn the ugly rhetoric that has been tearing our nation apart, in Virgina and beyond.
Having been founded twenty-three years ago in a racially-integrated community in South Texas, Abrazo is well aware of the systemic racism that impacts not just our adoptees, but all their parents, too. (And we are just as mindful of the challenges that come with transracial adoptions.) We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but we do believe it’s just as important to give voice to the questions, and to be forthright about our own mistakes in this regard.
Race-based Fee Structures
Texas-licensed adoption agencies routinely struggle with the realities of racism in a process that legally permits clients (whether they are placing a child for adoption or adopting a child) to express racial preferences, even as the state adoption standards have prohibited adoption agencies from racematching since 1997.
Since its opening in 1994, Abrazo was one of many well-meaning agencies that routinely classified children of full African-American descent as being “hard-to-place” (qualifying these placements as “special needs adoptions.”) It was (and still is) common practice for social service agencies to use their full program fees to help subsidize the costs of their special needs program discounts, in the hopes that this helped to get children of color adopted. (Whether it actually does or not is debatable. Learn more from this NPR piece on this topic.)
Over the years, Abrazo’s staff struggled with conflicting ethical questions about the practice. (If the same casework and placement services are being provided to all children, how is discounting the costs of services simply based on a child’s skin color fair to everyone? Are adopting parents “willing to accept African-American children” being rewarded monetarily (and even if not, is this still the message that race-based adoption fees might convey?) What “post-adoption special needs treatment costs” do discounted adoption fees actually subsidize, if the only identified “special need” is a melanin surplus? How are adoptive families of African-American children to explain the reduced adoption fees to their children, if the question arises? Are adoption agencies implying that children of color are somehow “worth” any less effort on their part? And yet, by not offering reduced fees for special needs adoptions, do adoption agencies potentially impede their efforts in recruiting families for the very children who might need to be adopted the most?)
After years of discussion, study, and soul-searching, Abrazo’s Board of Directors made the decision to eliminate race-based fee structures from its program. In doing so, Abrazo drew disapproval from those who felt it discouraged applicants unable to afford the agency’s full-service placement fees, but it also earned the respect of those who had found the agency’s classification of African-American children as “special needs kids” offensive. (Abrazo routinely encourages any adopting families who find traditional adoption fees prohibitive to instead consider adopting through the Heart Galleries, and it encourages economy-minded rainbow families to look into PACT an Adoption Alliance, a California adoption facilitator that specializes in minority adoptions.)
Race-Sensitive Adoption & Parenting Practices
Beyond this, Abrazo believes it is crucially important for all its clients to educate themselves about the complexities of racism and adoption– whatever an adoptee’s race may be. Abrazo does advocate for transracial adoption, yet feels it is as dangerous to claim to be colorblind as it is to put racial concerns ahead of any child’s best interests. There is a wealth of information to be found and absorbed, from The Pain of White Privilege & Racism in Transracial Adoption to Adoption, Racism & Finding Community to Racism Within the Transracial Adoption Community. The PACT Resource Library should be required reading, as well.
To believe that “love is all it takes” is both naive and misguided. Adoptees need more than just love to develop healthy attachments and positive self-identity, and those processes only start at placement. From that point on, adoptees need effective modeling and cultural membership and parental validation and so much more– regardless of race. And to learn of the needs of adoptees, we must all be ready to listen to their testimonies and learn from their lives, however painful those stories may sometimes be.
As Dee Reisner of NACAC wrote: “To build our children’s trust in us, we must also keep working to understand our own white privilege, stereotypes, and racism. We must explore our country’s history from the perspective of our child’s cultural community and commit to fighting racism even when we pay a personal price. We need to be there with our children when they are mistreated, denied access, or struggling to comprehend the cruel injustice of racism. Love is just the beginning of the transracial adoption journey. There is no end.”
As adoption professionals, we must do more to educate ourselves, as well, and to make the adoption process more comprehensible and accessible to clients of all ethnicities. We should take on the concerns of those who have researched the need for adoptive homes for African-American children, as well as those who have studied the impact of interracial convergence.
Granted, there are no easy answers to be found to the issues at hand, but we must all have the courage and integrity to acknowledge racism in adoption, to condemn racism whereever it occurs, and to devote ourselves to finding new solutions to problems of racism– for the sake of everyone’s children.