Thanks to high profile adoptions by Angelina Jolie, Sandra Bullock, Madonna and other celebrities, transracial adoption has been into the spotlight. About 40% of all adoptions in the United States today are transracial.
But how easy is it to raise a child of a different race? Are there special considerations that need to be taken? Should he or she be parented in the same way as any other child?
When it comes to transracial adoption, many people go into the process thinking that love is enough — it can fix everything. Others, however, argue that not only does this approach not do children any favors. It can also cause them irreparable harm.
Recently I had a chance to talk to Krista McCoy about what adoptive parents, birth parents and adoption professionals need to know about raising children who have been adopted across racial lines.
It’s a topic with which Krista has both personal and professional experience. She is a biracial transracial adoptee and a licensed clinical social worker. She’s also a conference presenter and trainer on issues of adoption and foster care for 20+ years and the founder of Integrity Clinical Consulting and Training, which provides pre/post adoption training and therapy to all members of the adoption triad.
1. How important is a child’s race to his or her overall identity?
A child’s race is his or her identity. It cannot be separated any more so than their gender. It is who they are.
2. Talk to me a little bit about the ways that children view color differently from adults…
Children don’t view color the same in that they notice differences but their lens isn’t tainted by stereotypes unless they have been taught by adults; which often they have been, as well as by influences in their community and what they see and hear in the media.
3. How did your experiences as a biracial child growing up in a transracial adoptive family influence the way you approach adoption and race?
My experiences are my identity. I was raised in an environment knowing that even though they were the only parents I knew, they also told me from an early age that I am of my birth family too, which is a mixture of races, and cultures. I was raised to embrace all of it as my identity and that has certainly influenced the way I view adoption.
I believe that adoptive parent should keep their child’s birth family history and their child’s race and culture as part of regular conversation and acknowledge that they celebrate their child’s history and differences.
4. How can parents who are adopting a child whose race is different from their own help him or her build a positive racial identity?
Parents should keep plenty of positive mentors and friends to help the child build their identity in healthy ways. Many times this can only be done by living and socializing in racially diverse communities and social groups. Choices of where to live and social groups to be a part of should be done prior to adopting.
5. How well are adoption agencies and professionals preparing adoptive parents for the challenges ahead?
Agencies and professional many times fail to adequately prepare adoptive parents for the challenges they may face. Many of the reasons why this occurs is due to the fact that agencies and social workers are afraid to discuss race, birth families and challenges of adoption out of fear, fear of losing clients (funding) or due to talking about sensitive and emotionally-charged subjects. This is also due to the fact that agencies are themselves not knowledgeable about this issues or due to individuals own biases.
6. What could they do better or differently?
Agencies could be honest about racism and prejudice and find ways to educate prospective adoptive families. There are plenty of various organizations and classes that parents could attend to help them achieve this. It should also be mandatory for parents to attend. In this process, they should also hear both positive and negative stories from adoptees who were transracially adopted.
7. What’s the No. 1 message that hopeful parents need to know before they adopt a child across racial lines?
The key message for prospective adoptive parents is that if you are not willing to move to a community that closer represents the race/background of their child, and be willing to be the racial minorities as the parents; then why should they put the burden on their child to be the racial minority in that community?
8. What’s the No. 1 message they need to know after they adopt?
Parents should keep in mind after they adopt that this child will grown up and will continue to need them to be open and honest about the feelings that their son or daughter will always have the adoption loss as part of who they are. Celebrate their uniqueness and be open to their vulnerability.
9. Talk to me about the importance of community and role models in building a strong racial identity…
Role models are key to building a strong racial identity in children. But the role models the children will most connect with are the ones that the parents have in their home over for dinner, who the parents arrange for them to play with, who they see in their homes, in their churches, synagogues, and who coaches the Little League Team or teaches piano lessons.
10. How should parents talk to their children about issues like racism and stereotypes without going overboard and creating a sense of fear?
They should talk to them in age-appropriate ways the same they would talk to them about their adoption story and their birth family stories. As stated before, parents first have to be honest about it. They need to talk about White privilege and the various types of discrimination.
Living in transracial adoptive families, there are often many examples from people of color (ie: close friends and mentors) that parents can talk about proactively and devise appropriate ways they will handle or respond to situations of racism and stereotyping that their children will face at various points in their lives; even as children. To not talk about small issues and bigger issues is to fail to give our children the proper tools and safe environments in which to share, learn and grow.
Parents can also help their children by talking with the role models, but not “sending their children to the racial role models” to teach them. Ultimately, the children learn by seeing how their parents interact and respond.
Sometimes honest discussion that evokes a certain amount of fear is appropriate for children. We need to prepare our children to live in the actual world, and not a pretend world where everyone is safe and treated fairly.
One example is how we teach our children about not talking to strangers, taking candy from them, or leaving with them unless they know the family “password”. We are not afraid of talking to children about stranger danger, so why would we not talk to them about other types of danger; ones that happen to be rooted in racism?
11. What can adoption agencies or professionals do better or differently to help expectant parents find a transracial match that’s right for them?
Agencies should require adoptive parents to go through intensive cultural competency courses; and after the training, and only then, should they examine the matching process; which will often have a different outcome than the parents and/or agency originally anticipated.
Sometimes parents will naturally “selectively drop out” and realize that transracial placement would not be appropriate for them or a child. This should be viewed as a positive; but usually isn’t by either the agency and/or the parents.
12. What can adoptive parents and birth parents do together to embrace their differences and create an environment for their child where diversity is valued?
Birthparents and adoptive parents need to have a professional prepare all of them by talking about fears, and preconceived ideas they have about the other, then all sit down with a professional “mediating” the discussion. Afterwards, the clinician should do a de-briefing with all parties separately.
I have done such meetings with great success. It was amazing and powerful to watch how everyone’s walls came down, and everyone came up with a plan that had the child and their collective love for the child at the center of their actions; which certainly will have lasting positive results.
What do you think of Krista’s advice? What’s your take on transracial adoption? Leave you comment in the space below.