The Danger of Limiting Transracial Adoption

Proposed changes to the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act would result in fewer black children finding safe and loving homes.

Over the weekend, The Dispatch’s David French wrote about the new report from Bethany Christian Services dealing with transracial adoption. As part of what it describes as its “long journey toward becoming an anti-racist organization,” Bethany is calling for changes to the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act to allow race to be a factor in determining adoption placements. Such a change would make it harder for white families to adopt non-white children. In his column, David  made a passing reference to my objections to this change that I wrote about in Newsweek last week. Unfortunately, he did not engage with the substance of my argument.

It is not simply that I think wokeness or critical race theory is bad. That is a subject for another column on another day. It is that I think overturning the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act, which is what Bethany proposes, will result in fewer black children finding loving and permanent homes. 

As I wrote last week: 

Since MEPA and the Adoption and Safe Families Act (which reduced the allowable time for kids to remain in care and which racial activists also want to overturn) were passed in the mid-90s, adoptions "have increased from about thirty thousand to fifty thousand per year," according to a 2020 article by the Brookings Institution's Ron Haskins. "Moreover, the average time states took to complete adoption of children from foster care was reduced by about one year." What this means in practice is clear, writes Haskins: "More kids adopted; faster adoptions. A double victory."

If we change MEPA, I predict we will go back to the previous situation. If David disagrees with this assessment, I invite him either to explain why or why fewer black kids getting adopted out of foster care doesn’t concern him. 

David notes that my objection’s to Bethany’s report were brought up in the context of the agency’s decision to start placing children with gay families. I have no objection to this decision and since I’m not a Christian, I have no dog in that particular fight. When it comes to adoption, I think the answer is to let a thousand flowers bloom.

What I did say was that if Bethany made that decision (as it said at the time) because the size and the urgency of our foster care situation in this country demanded an “all hands on deck” approach, then surely we should not try to restrict transracial adoption. You can’t have it both ways. 

I was particularly surprised that David repeats Bethany’s claim that it wants only to permit agencies to “consider the cultural, ethnic, or racial background of the child and the capacity of the prospective foster or adoptive parent to meet the needs of such background” as one of the “many factors in foster and adoptive placements.” 

I simply don’t know how a conservative can utter the phrase “consider race as one of many factors” with a straight face anymore. Just a reminder: This is also Harvard’s official admissions policy. The lesson of decades of affirmative action is that when you consider race as one factor, it becomes the only factor. 

I know David has adopted internationally, but I don’t know his level of familiarity with the domestic child welfare system here. Let me say this: From child welfare agencies to family courts, the system is permeated with people who oppose transracial adoptions at every turn. As I noted in my Newsweek piece, it’s been the official position of the National Association of Black Social Workers for decades. It is not uncommon to hear lawyers bring up an adoptive parent’s race in an open courtroom as a reason to leave a child in foster care longer, even if that parent is seeking to adopt a child he or she has been fostering for years. More common are whispers among social workers about a white parent’s inability to do black hair that mysteriously turn into bureaucratic delays and other roadblocks. 

The truth is that large-scale longitudinal studies show no difference in outcomes for black kids adopted by white families and black kids adopted by black families. This is not to say that individuals won’t have difficulties (though again, adoption is not easy no matter what the circumstances). And agencies have a responsibility to help families through these times. But many agencies focus on this to the point of discouraging white families from adopting transracially. See, for instance, the experience of my friend Malka Groden. 

The Annie E. Casey Foundation (probably the largest philanthropy devoted to child welfare), which wrote Bethany’s new report, has made clear its position on the issue. And the group does not believe the problem of racial disparities in foster care can be     solved with more conversations. (There is absolutely nothing in MEPA that prevents agencies from engaging in racial sensitivity training.)

The foundation’s partner, Casey Family Programs, for instance, honors people like Judge Ernestine Steward Gray from the Orleans Parish Juvenile Court, who proudly talks about how she applies different standards for removing white children and black children from abusive homes, and who wants to create an Indian Child Welfare Act for black children. This law has kept Native American children in abusive and neglectful homes and in foster care for years longer than their white counterparts because non-Indian families have not been deemed sufficiently culturally sensitive to care for them. As a defender of individual rights, David presumably recognizes ICWA for the racist stain on our nation’s laws that it is and I hope he wouldn’t want it to spread to other populations. 

David’s family’s experience with racism is one that I take seriously for reasons both personal and political. But I have yet to see evidence that the white supremacists who harass him and his family are out there trying to adopt black children—which is Bethany’s astonishing claim. 

But as David surely realizes, in our current environment the definition of white supremacy is a fluid one. Given that social justice groups try to claim that math is racist and that concepts like “rugged individualism,” the nuclear family, and punctuality are relics of “white culture,” surely plenty of white parents who don’t plan to teach their children that police are responsible for the high rates of black homicide in this country can be similarly tarred.

David and I may disagree about the way we talk to our respective black children about what it means to be black in America. But opposing MEPA is not about having more conversations with transracial parents. It is about restricting transracial adoptions and it is about letting the race-obsessed culture of child welfare take over all adoption and foster care organizations. 

When I think about how our child welfare system has lower standards for the way we allow children who look like mine to be treated and higher barriers to prevent them from being placed in safe and loving homes, I’m disgusted. And I had hoped David would be too.

Naomi Schaefer Riley is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute focusing on child welfare.