Surprising New Research About the Role of Race in Adoption

by ParentCo. March 07, 2016

A new study from the University of Vermont finds that many people seeking to adopt a child won't consider adopting a black child from the United States. 25 percent of adoptions in the US are international. Americans adopt primarily from China, Ethiopia, Korea, Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Nigeria. America adopts more children internationally than any other country. But even as transnational adoption grows, many American children await adoption in the United States.
  • More than 400,000 children are in foster care in the U.S
  • Approximately 60% are children of color
  • 35% are black
The authors of the new study "We Didn’t Even Think about Adopting Domestically: The Role of Race and Other Factors in Shaping Parents’ Decisions to Adopt Abroad" ask "what role does race play in parents’ decisions to adopt abroad rather than adopt domestically?" In the paper's abstract, the authors write:

"Because many of these children are children of color (and often black), we ask: What role does race play in parents’ decisions to adopt abroad rather than adopt domestically? In-depth interviews with 41 parents reveal that parents adopt abroad for many reasons. Regarding racial motivations, although some parents were open to children of any race and several actively sought nonwhite children, many had limits—they did not want to adopt African American children."

In some cases, the decision not to adopt domestically was based on non-racial factors. These include:
  • Fear of birth parents changing their mind and wanting their child back.
  • Concern about open adoptions where birth parents maintain some contact with their child
  • An assumption that adoptive children in the U.S. have more health issues due to alcohol or drug abuse by their mothers.
  • Others preferred choosing or being matched with a child from another country vs. being chosen by a birth mother in the U.S. from a pool of candidates.
Regarding racial motivations, the most commonly cited reason for not adopting a black child (especially an African American), was that parents “did not think it was in the child’s best interest.” Other reasons included
  • bonding fears
  • family prejudice
  • racial stereotypes, like the portrayal of black males being unruly
One woman, who adopted a child from Guatemala, said that she “probably wouldn’t have adopted a black child … Hispanic seems less different for me than black.” Another couple said “We were fine with South American. And we weren’t fine with African American.” When asked why she said, “maybe I wasn’t exposed, or I just thought it would be too different.”

What It Means

On the University of Vermont website, lead author Nikki Khanna said “The fact that some respondents went abroad to actively seek children of color challenges the assumption that parents simply choose to adopt abroad because they are in search of white children they could not find in the United States.” “Yet, even for many parents who were open to or actively seeking children of color, they had limits; they were open to children of varying racial backgrounds, but not black – especially not African American.” Future implications “Given these findings, encouraging American parents to adopt in the United States may prove difficult,” concludes Khanna. “These findings also have implications for broader race relations in the United States, given that parental preferences regarding the race of their adoptees reflect the American racial hierarchy that relegates black/African Americans to the bottom tier.”
SOURCE + MORE INFO
We Didn’t Even Think about Adopting Domestically”- Sociological Perspectives
"New Study Shows Bias Toward Adopting Children of Certain Ethnic, Racial Backgrounds" - Newswise
"Parents reveal reasons why they adopted children of color abroad instead of African American children awaiting adoption in U.S". - Office of the Vice President for Research,
Source Newsroom: University of Vermont



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