Professor Elizabeth Bartholet, who directs the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard Law School, believes the concept of striving for color blindness is sound. She foresees problems if race once again becomes a key determinant.
“Giving social workers the chance to do that produced very rigid race matching,” she said. “That’s one of the reasons to say race can’t be used at all — there’s no other way to be sure it doesn’t become the overwhelming factor.”
Current policy allows standardized pre-adoption training, but wisely prohibits specific screening for parents seeking to adopt transracially, Bartholet said.
“What cannot be done is have a pass/fail test that turns on whether you give the politically correct answers,” she said. “If social workers are allowed to use training to determine who can adopt, there’s lots of experience showing they abuse that power.”
She also questioned whether attempts to boost minority recruitment would succeed.
“Black people are significantly poorer than white people and less likely to be in a position to come forward,” Bartholet said. “Recruitment efforts bump up against that fact.”
The Donaldson recommendations were embraced as “long overdue” by Michelle Johnson, a black woman raised by white adoptive parents near Minneapolis. Johnson now works on child-welfare matters for the court system there.
Her parents “were not the norm,” she said. “They were exceptional in what they did for me ... They were very humble in what they didn’t know.”
Too many white adoptive parents, she said, underestimate the enduring presence of racism in America and don’t get training that would help them raise a black child.
“As a social worker who used to place children, I know very few families are ready to do this,” Johnson said. “When families fail to realize they need assistance, it’s dangerous.”
Regarding recruitment, Johnson said agencies should strive to find permanent homes for black children among their extended families before placing them in foster care.
John Mould and Margaret Geiger, an Ambler, Pa., couple, have two white biological children and five black adopted children, now aged 15 to 23. Mould said transracial adoption is unquestionably challenging, but he worries about any changes that might make training and screening requirements too rigid.
“There are so many kids who need homes,” Mould said. “The idea of trying to find the perfect matches — you’re not going to find them.”
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Part of Elizabeth Siwo-Okundi's job at the orphanage in Homa Bay, Kenya, was to travel to remote, unpaved areas and visit families of deceased
mothers and fathers, check gravesites and confirm that parents
were in fact dead and that their kids were in fact orphans. More »
Part of Elizabeth Siwo-Okundi's job at the orphanage in Homa Bay, Kenya, was to travel to remote, unpaved areas and visit families of deceased mothers and fathers, check gravesites and confirm that parents were in fact dead and that their kids were in fact orphans. More »