Report Back From Working Sessions (Afternoon)
Moderator: Ruth McRoy, Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work, Austin, TX
(1) Joseph Crumbley - What is the Role of Race and Culture in Adoption and Foster Care?
The roles of racial and cultural identities in adoption were looked at on two levels:
1) The needs of all children.
All children need positive racial and cultural identities. They are essential because they provide all children with a sense of rights, privileges, entitlements, potential, self worth, acceptance and belonging.
2) The role of culture and race for children who are transracially and internationally adopted.
The word minority was defined - not in terms of race, but in terms of power. Children who are considered a part of the dominant group in society are a part of group(s) with control of the allocation of resources, entitlements, goods, rights, status and services. Children considered to be a part of minority groups are recipients of that distribution.
Children adopted transracially and transculturally fall into the minority group because of power. Positive racial and cultural identities give children coping skills to deal with prejudice and discrimination. They provide a positive reference, a sense of what one can be, resilience, role models and empowerment in the sense that it gives self-confidence, and they counteract stereotypes.
There is a need for pre- and post-adoption services which foster positive racial and cultural identities in children.
(2) Lynne Jacobs - Do Cultural Differences Between Countries Matter in International Adoption?
The control of international searching needs to be in the hands of adoptees. Conducting a search internationally differs from a domestic search in that often there are language barriers. A search is not completed in one step, but is a process which can last any length of time and can play out in a variety of ways. Adoptees need to be prepared and supported by agencies in order to search. The first step is setting up contacts in the adoptee's birth country and maintaining them throughout the adoptee's life so that connections are available when the adoptee wants to search.
Adult adoptees need to be prepared to deal with cultural differences when going back to their country of origin to search.
Agencies in all countries participating in international adoptions need training in and preparation for open adoptions.
We are modeling lies for children when we do not respect other countries' rules.
It is possible to eventually convince another country to change their policies by respectfully adhering to that country's requirements. When a sending country sees that outcomes are positive for children they have placed in another country and that that country is consistently and respectfully complying with the sending country's policies, they will be more likely to consider changing their requirements.
Generally, families feel entitled to adopt. Prospective adoptive families must be educated to understand that adoption should focus on finding families for children and not children for families. They must also realize that adoption is a life-long process.
More post-adoption support and resources are needed for children who are adopted internationally and for the families who raise them.
It is important to be respectful of the policies of "sending" countries in international adoption. Whether one holds the viewpoint that "receiving" countries, when faced with a situation in which applicants do not meet the criteria of a sending country, should a) not lie, but instead, should direct applicants to apply to countries or programs where policies do not exclude them, or b) challenge that country's discriminatory policies on the basis of human rights, there is no question that the "sending" countries must be respected and the best interests of the children must be considered.
(3) Michael Colberg - Does the Law Get it Right in the Role of Race and Culture in Adoption?
The following questions were posed at the beginning of the working session, but were not addressed: Is racism inevitable or can it be eradicated? Is the individual more important than the group? Do we as a society gain from attention to our origins and if so, how and what do we gain?
MEPA and ICWA grew out of the fact that children were being needlessly removed from their homes and families.
Who set the goals of MEPA? And what are they? How will we measure the success of MEPA? Does MEPA discriminate against families of color from becoming kinship adopters?
Environment plays an enormous role and needs to be taken into consideration.
We need to figure out how to recruit in particular communities. In African American communities, for example, there is distrust of the bureaucracy.
There is an assumption that transracial adoption means placing children of color with white families. If we are going to place transracially, we need to do it across the board.
MEPA seems to be for the benefit of white adults as opposed to focusing on the needs of children.
There is an unstated assumption that to place children transracially is to save them from their disadvantaged culture.
We must value differences.
(4) Zelma Smith - What is the Role of Kin in Adoption?
There is an African proverb that demonstrates how we need to work together to do the right thing by children: "It is through other people's wisdom that we learn wisdom ourselves. A single person's wisdom does not amount to anything."
Placing children with relatives is the right thing to do because it lessens the initial trauma children may experience when being removed from their homes. It allows children to retain their sense of culture and identity. Only with relatives can children experience being with others who know their history and which family members they resemble. It also keeps siblings together.
What are the issues in terms of placing children? It is often difficult to place children with relatives because minimal resources and services are available to them. Often, relatives are not informed of funds available to kin adopters.
Whose issue is permanency? How are relatives being asked to adopt? Sometimes there is a thin line between encouragement and coercion.
We need to make sure that families are educated and have access to the resources that are available to them.
Why are there large numbers of children of color and Native American children being removed from their homes? If it is substance abuse, what is being done about it? Why aren't more relatives sought for children? What is the ethical dilemma in non-relatives being subsidized while relatives are not? The transmission of culture is considered an asset in kinship adoptions. Why is it a problem in general in adoptive placements? MEPA calls for recruitment, yet no money has been set aside for this practice. There are agencies that successfully recruit minority families for children of color. Why aren't we investing more in them instead of claiming that there are not enough families available? Where does the issue of power and privilege fit into the debate?