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Between 1968 and 1972, approximately 50,000 black and biracial children were adopted by white adoptive parents. At the time, adoption of black children by white families was thought necessary due to the increasing number of black children in foster care and the seeming lack of black adoptive families. In the early 1970s, transracial adoptions gained in popularity as the number of available white infants declined and the number of prospective adoptive parents continued to grow.

The practice of transracial adoption was severely challenged in 1972. At the national conference of the North American Council on Adoptable Children, the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) issued a formal position opposing transracial adoption, citing concerns that such placements compromised the child's racial and cultural identity, amounting to a form of cultural genocide. The NABSW expressed concern that black children raised in white homes would fail to develop effective coping strategies to deal with racism and discrimination, and would experience subsequent identity conflicts as they grew older. The NABSW also challenged traditional adoption practices and raised questions about institutionalized racism within the adoption profession. They brought forward existing evaluation criteria for prospective adoptive couples that routinely prevented black families from qualifying, and stated that even though prospective black adoptive families did exist, adoption agencies were failing to recruit them and were, in fact, passing them over in favor of white couples.

The response from the adoption field was swift. There was an immediate drop in the number of transracial placements. Policy makers established laws and practice guidelines requiring adoptive parents to be of the same race as the child. Although white parents continued to care for black and biracial children through foster care, many states legally barred them from formally adopting these children.

Transracial adoption has also affected the Native American community, albeit under a different set of circumstances. Before 1978, it is estimated that in certain states, between 25 to 35% of Native American children were taken from their homes, with 90% of these children being placed in white families. Failing to understand traditional Native American culture and child-rearing practices, officials and social workers from public and private agencies claimed that the removal of Native American children from their families was in the "best interest of the child." These children were sometimes taken through fraudulent means, and parents were often misled or relinquished their children under duress. (A similar trend of forced removal occurred among native children in Canada and aboriginal children in Australia. According to recent reports from Sydney, approximately 200,000 Australian aboriginal children were removed from their families and placed with white families for assimilation into mainstream culture.)

The adoption of Native American children by white parents raised similar concerns as those raised by NABSW: Was this practice just another form of cultural genocide? The Indian Child Welfare Act, passed by Congress in 1978, was enacted in response to those concerns. The goal of the Indian Child Welfare Act was to prevent illegal adoptions of Native American children by white parents and to prevent unethical removal of Native American children from their homes. However, as of 1997, Native American children were still being separated from their families, with an estimated 20 to 30% being cared for or adopted by non-Native American families.

The Multi-Ethnic Placement Act of 1994, authored by Senator Howard Metzenbaum, mandated that adoption agencies receiving federal funds cannot deny or delay adoptions based solely on racial difference. This was partly written in response to the growing number of children in foster care, but because the language was subject to interpretation, Congress enacted the Inter-Ethnic Adoption Provisions in 1996, which prohibited federally funded agencies from denying or delaying adoptions solely on the basis of race or national origin. Both laws are designed to decrease the length of time a child has to wait before being adopted and eliminate racial discrimination. These laws have been controversial, however (See "Pact," an essay on the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act at ( and have not diminished the debate surrounding transracial adoption. Many people feel that transracial adoptees are emotionally scarred by their experience; others strongly disagree and suggest that the long-term outcome for transracial adoptees is very positive. Some suggest that the number of children in need of foster care or adoption will always exceed the number of available families within a particular racial group. Others believe that current adoption practices are rife with racial discrimination and other barriers, and that greater efforts should be made to remove them. Still others advocate for more systemic support of families who struggle against economic and social disadvantage in order to keep these families together and decrease the need for foster and adoptive placements. And finally, there are those who think that adoption into a White family is preferable to the impermanence and instability of foster care.

We encourage you to find out more about transracial adoption and to engage in a dialogue about these issues within your community. Check out these resources and links:

Institute for Black Parenting ( is an organization whose mission is the preservation of black families through foster care and adoption services.

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