Adoption Agency Discrimination Must Stop

Published May 12, 1995

Advocates of welfare reform and affirmative action ought to take a long look at the current state of interracial adoption in the United States. An efficient, compassionate adoption system promises relief from a wide range of welfare problems, yet it is being marginalized today for the most un-American of reasons: race.

Although there is a shortage of families of color waiting to adopt children, there is an abundance of prospective white parents eager to take on the responsibility. Current adoption practices, however, work both formally and informally to prevent white parents from adopting minority children. It takes twice as long for a white family to adopt a black child as it does for them to adopt a white child or a child from abroad. Tragically, race can and is used as a basis of discrimination in adoption cases, even while federal, state, and local laws actively prohibit such discrimination in many other arenas.

Consider the experience of William and Patricia Mandel. The San Francisco Department of Social Services was all too willing to place in their foster care Robyn, a black infant born with cocaine and barbiturates in her blood. Yet over a year later, when the Mandels decided to make Robyn a permanent part of the family, the DSS flatly refused because the Mandels were “not ethnically or racially matched” with the child. Fortunately for the Mandels and Robyn, the family had the time, money, and patience to fight the system. They won Robyn’s custody two years later. But too many families will not be so fortunate!

Adoption laws in every state allow race to be a factor in considering the placement of a child in an adoptive home. Policymakers and social workers across the country are working to prevent cross-race adoptions, which they claim will result in cultural genocide. The National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) pledges to “affirm the inviolable position of black children in black families where they belong physically, psychologically, and culturally in order [to] receive the total sense of themselves and develop a sound projection of their future.” Yet when there aren’t enough black families to adopt black children, the NABSW is left to explain how black children shuffled from one foster home to another can be expected to develop “a total sense of themselves” and “a sound projection of their future.”

Tragically, the NABSW would rather confine the children they claim as their “cultural own” to a life in foster care than free them to white families–despite studies that have shown how successful interracial adoption can be. One such study conducted by Rita Simon, a professor at American University, shows that children of interracial adoptions grow with the same sense of pride and develop the same family relationships as birth children raised in the same households. In placement decisions, she proposes substituting “race” with “best interest of the child” as a prerequisite for adoption.

For all of the above reasons, the Institute for Justice has filed lawsuits in Texas and Tennessee representing the millions of children in foster care who are being denied loving homes, solely on the basis of race. In Austin, Texas, the Institute has filed a class-action suit against the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (DPRS), the state agency charged with protecting abandoned and neglected children. The Institute represents Matthew and Joseph, the two foster children that Lou Ann and Scott Mullen have been trying to adopt. The two boys represent a class of non-white children in DPRS custody who are delayed or denied adoptive placement in qualified homes.

In Memphis, Tennessee, the Institute joins as co-counsel an ongoing federal class action, Reisman v. Tennessee Dept. of Human Services. The lawsuit, brought on behalf of all children in the custody of the Department of Human Services, alleges that the state is creating separate pools of prospective adoptive families and children in need of homes by using race as a criterion.

It is time for adoption agencies to stop discriminating against children and parents based on their race and to start finding suitable homes for children in need of a loving family. The real question is not whether interracial adoption will result in cultural genocide, but whether we are going to continue to prevent children from being raised in loving families simply because they happen to be the “wrong” color.

by Nina Shokraii, outreach coordinator for the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice.