Sponsored by the HealthcareTrainingInstitute.org providing Quality Education since 1979
Add to Shopping Cart

Adoption Techniques for Treating Adoptive Parent Issues
Adoptive Parent continuing education psychology CEUs

Section 17
Africa: Orphans and International Adoptions

CEUs Question 17 | CEUs Answer Booklet | Table of Contents | Adoption
Social Worker CEUs, Counselor CEUs, Psychologist CEs, MFT CEUs

Current Issues Concerning International Adoption
Determining the desirability of international adoption — particularly adoption of African children by Americans — is not simple. There are justifiable fears and worries at the threshold of such a discussion, on Adoption Adoptive Parent mft CEUboth sides. These concerns are raised, but not necessarily resolved, in this section.

Lingering Effects of American Slavery
The American slavery that began in the early 1500s and lasted through the Emancipation Proclamation in 1865 has been called one of the most tragic episodes in the history of humankind (Clarke, 1998). The century following emancipation saw rampant social discrimination against African Americans, in many ways embedded in the American social structure. The Civil Rights movement has led to significant improvements in government and private sector policies, but studies show that discrimination lingers in subtle ways in health care, higher education, employment, residence, and social status (Anderson & Massey, 2001; Cokley, Dreher, & Stockdale, 2004; Swim, Hyers, Cohen, Fitzgerald, & Brylsma, 2003).

In contrast, there are hopeful signs that racial relationships are improving over time. After a review of policies and attitudes between 1940 and 1978, Dovidio and Gaertner (1986) suggested that the United States had become more liberal and egalitarian by the late 1970s, noting that changes in mass-media stereotyping had increased race awareness. This positive trend continued into the late 1990s, when Bobo and Kluegel (1997) documented a decline in racial prejudice during the preceding three decades, although government policies intending to bring equality were met with mixed emotions. Other researchers confirmed that attitudes have continuously improved regarding principles of equal treatment, although views regarding government implementation of equal treatment policies and complete integration of neighborhoods and schools are improving at a slower rate (Schuman, Stech, Bobo, & Krysan, 1997).

Modern-Day Slavery and Child Trafficking
Slavery was officially banned in Africa in the 1880s, but children there continue to be sold into domestic, agricultural, and sex industries today (International Organization for Migration [IOM], 2003). An incident in 2001 involving a ship carrying 250 children from Benin and Togo destined for slave labor in Cameroon highlighted this reality in Africa (CNN, 2001). Rumors that some children may be taken for adoption (Africans in America, 2003) heightened fears, although there are no documented cases of adoption trafficking into the United States from Africa. Isolated cases of ethical and legal problems in the adoption of children into the United States (Ethica, 2003; Kesich, 2004; Roby & Matsumura, 2002) raise the need for tightened regulations and enforcement of existing federal and state regulations — which are delineated in a later section.

Children's Identity and Well-Being
Many (Freundlich, 2000; Kim, 1978; Melone, 1976; Serbin, 1997) have commented on the importance of racial and cultural identity for children in their adoption experience. Thus, transracial adoptions have been opposed by some child advocates in the United States. In the early 1970s, the National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW) strongly opposed placing African American children in white homes, and transracial adoption subsequently declined (Carter-Black, 2002; Hollingsworth, 1997). The NABSW has since accepted transracial adoption as an alternative, but in-race adoptions are still viewed as preferable (Carter-Black; McRoy, 2003). On this point, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has emphasized the need to keep race as an important factor in the adoption matching. The summary of NASW's policy statement on adoption and foster care states, "the placement of choice should be within the child's family. If no relatives are available, every effort should be made to place a child in a home with foster parents of a similar racial and ethnic background to the child's family" (NASW, 2003)

International conventions also recognize the need for cultural continuity. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) (1989) stressed international adoption as an alternative, "if the child cannot be placed in foster or an adoptive family in the child's country of origin" [Art. 21 (b)]. In addition, the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (1993,hereinafter "the Hague Convention") requires member nations to give priority to in-country placement (para. 2) before considering international adoption (para. 3). Specific to this article, the question is to what degree African children adopted into the United States would be fostered in their cultural identity, receive acceptance, and enjoy a sense of belonging in their families. Owing to the recency of adopting African children, we were unable to find research data on African adoptees. Hence, we present the next most relevant research: transracial adoption within the United States, specifically white parents adopting African American children, which affords a large body of research data.

Some studies show that transracial adoptions may result in negative self-esteem and adjustment outcomes. DeBerry and colleagues (1996) found that as older children, African American adoptees displayed competence in a Eurocentric orientation, with 40 percent to 60 percent showing maladjustment despite their academic competence. Hollingsworth (2002) analyzed 93 media reports of interviews with transracial adoptees age 20 and older and found that 82 percent have had difficulty with ethnic identity development, and 97 percent have encountered racism. Other researchers point to racial identity confusion (McRoy & Grape, 1999) and advocate for policies that encourage same-race placements (McRoy, Oglesby, & Grape, 1997).

Others have reported that transracial adoptees overall are comfortable with their racial identity (Simon & Alstein, 1996), and that their parents want them to be proud of their racial background (Simon &• Alstein, 2000). Vroegh (1997) found that 88 percent of transracially adopted children consider themselves as black or mixed race. Researchers also found that transracial adoptees have secure ethnoracial identities (Brooks & Barth, 1999), satisfying adoption experiences, and normal self-esteem levels (Hoopes, Alexander, Silver, Ober, & Kirby, 1997). Their adjustment is comparable to other adopted children (Feigelman & Silverman, 1984), with 70 percent of placements having satisfactory outcomes (Rushton £ Minnis, 1997). Most people in the United States seem to approve of transracial adoption (Hollingsworth, 2000), but the need to educate families about the importance of child's racial identity continues (Vonk, 2001).

Children in the U.S. Foster Care System
One of the most sensitive aspects of discussing adoption of African children is the number of children in the U.S. child welfare system, especially the disproportionate numbers of African American children (Casey Family Programs, 2004; McRoy, 2003; McRoy et al., 1997). In September 2001 there were 542,000 children in the U.S. foster care system (Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System [AFCARS], 2003). Of these, 126,000 children (23 percent) were awaiting adoption (their parents' rights had already been terminated or their permanency goals were set as adoption by state child welfare workers). Of the "waiting" children, 45 percent were non-Hispanic African American children (AFCARS). During that year, 50,000 children of all races were adopted from the public welfare system (AFCARS), assisted by incentives given to states (Fostering Families, 2001) and tax credits to adoptive parents (Bush, 2003), and one third of them were African American (AFCARS). Besides the incentives for adoptive parents, transracial adoptions have also increased as a result of other federal efforts, including the Multiethnic Placement Act, passed in 1994 (U.S. Code, 2002a), and the Removal of Barriers to Interethnic Adoption Act (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2002), which prohibit race from being a primary factor in public adoptions. Furthermore, the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (US. Code, 2002b) and the Adoption Promotion Act of 2003 (P.L. 108-145) have increased incentives to adopt more children out of foster care. Still, it is daunting that 126,000 children are waiting for permanent families, and 55,000 to 60,000 of those are African American children (AFCARS).

The number of waiting U.S. children may seem ironic juxtaposed to the increasing number of children being adopted from foreign countries. In 2005 more than 22,000 children were adopted from outside the United States, with the top five countries of origin being Mainland China, Russia, Guatemala, South Korea, and Ukraine (U.S. Department of State, 2006). These numbers represent a steady rise over the past 10 years. Why, then, should we discuss adopting African orphans? Arguably, adoption efforts should be focused solely on U.S. waiting children and on culturally appropriate practices for African American children, such as preventive strategies and screening more same-race adoptive families "in" rather than "out" (McRoy, 2003; McRoy et al., 1997).

However, there may still be some plausible justifications for considering adoption of African children. First, the numbers of children adopted from U.S. public child welfare system and from foreign countries are both on the rise. A five-year (1997 to 2002) comparison of domestic public adoption and international adoptions shows that although international adoptions increased 58 percent, domestic adoptions of children in foster care rose by 64 percent during the same period. During the 2002-2004 period, the domestic rate decreased slightly (3.7 percent) while international adoptions increased by 13 percent. The 2002-2004 figures may indicate a new trend, but could also be a slight variation on the overall pattern.

Some Americans may adopt internationally for reasons different from those adopting from the U.S. public system. Some parents may adopt internationally because they are more open to working with private (rather than public) agencies. They may feel apprehension about children who become available for adoption as a result of abuse, neglect, or substance abuse by birth parents. The adoptive families may perceive that international adoptions offer advantages over domestic adoptions, such as ease of approval. In addition, although it is not our intent to promote a practice or policy of "locking out" birth families, some adoptive families may prefer to avoid the now-common practice of open adoptions (Pertman, 2000). Most adoptive parents prefer to adopt children of the same race (Freundlich, 2000). but some parents seem to take pride in building a culturally diverse family (Roby, Wyatt, & Pettys, 2005). Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Americans may view the African situation as an international humanitarian crisis. As in the wake of the Korean conflict (Wilkinson, 1995), the fall of Saigon (Zigler, 1976), and the demise of communism in Eastern Europe (Bartholet, 1993), U.S. families may be drawn to rescue children from an extreme crisis compared with children in the U.S. foster care system, who at least have minimal guarantees of health care, nutrition, and protection. Already, there seems to be a growing interest in adopting these children from Africa (Americans for African Adoptions, 2004; Carter-Shotts, 2003; personal communication with S. Tompkins, director, Journeys of the Heart Adoption Services, Hilsborough, Oregon, December 9, 2003).

African Response
The African response to international adoptions has not been adequately explored. It is generally perceived that most African countries do not wish to participate in international adoptions (personal communication with M. Fruendlich, policy director, Child Rights, Inc., January 1, 2004, New York; Nemapare, as cited in Menting, 2000). As previously discussed, in some countries adoption is met with resistance because of cultural beliefs and traditions (Child Protection Society of Zimbabwe, 1999; Menting, 2000). Only a handful of African countries are participating in international adoptions into the United States. The highest number of African children were adopted in 2005 from Ethiopia (441,up from 105 in 2002), where the government has approved four U.S. agencies to conduct adoptions (U.S. Department of State, 2006). South Africa, Kenya, and Liberia have allowed a few more children to be adopted, but most African nations remain closed to international adoption. Many African countries have lengthy processes that make it difficult to adopt, and some do not allow adoption at all. For example, membership in the Moslem faith is required to adopt in Morocco, complicated laws differ in many states of Nigeria, and adoption is considered only after 18 months of fostering a child in Malawi.

However, international adoption is a legitimate option in the wider context of the orphan crisis (personal communication, with S. Hunter, independent consultant, UNICEF, Nairobi, Kenya, September 19, 2003). In addition, the African response cannot be generalized, as it appears to vary widely even within one country. On the first author's 2003 trip to Africa, many government and private-sector leaders expressed an interest in exploring the option of international adoptions. Some asked extensive questions about the adjustment of African American children in the United States, the legal and procedural safeguards in the international process, and the rights extended to adopted children. A Kenyan social worker and teacher who operates a day center for more than 120 orphans wrote:

We are hit by so much poverty, HIV/AIDS, and sometimes ignorance which we can't fight, and drought which makes it so difficult for our lives are cut short by lack of enough food and lack of human rights for especially women and orphaned children and widows. I will work with all my friends in the world to open more doors and create hope for all children. If adoption will be officially accepted [by my country], and get the right information and caring families who love life. I will be willing to help to make children orphaned and desperate bave a family and get education and freedom to choose their rights, (personal communication with D. Nzomo, September 25, 2003, emphasis in original).

In contrast, a difference between the national and provincial levels was noted in a 2004 visit to Mozambique, where there are 1.5 million orphans (UNAIDS et al., 2004) and, according to the UNICEF office in Maputo (personal communication with O. Perrais, chief consultant July 23, 2004), at least 280,000 of them are "double" orphans (both parents lost). Officials at one province had voiced support for international adoption, along with frustration with the inadequate resources to meet the medical, nutritional, and psychological needs of the orphans. However, national officials reported that orphans were being adequately cared for by kin and substitute families or in institutions and that adoption was not needed (personal communication with F. Lucas, deputy director, Ministry of Social Action, July 23, 2004, Maputo, Mozambique).

Protection of Children in the Adoption Process
In the dialogue about international adoption, it is essential to address adequate legal and procedural protection of children and families as a threshold matter, which must be available and enforced with vigilance in the sending, transit, and receiving countries.  The lack of such regulations and enforcement have given rise to grey and black market practices in the Marshall Islands (Roby & Matsumura, 2002), Guatemala (Ethica, 2003), and Cambodia (Joint Council on International Children's Services, 2004), to name a few. Most questionable cases of international adoption into the United States can be traced back to such a lack of regulations or their enforcement in the sending and transit countries, as well as actions motivated by potential profit (UNICEF, 2004).

Conclusion and Implications
Certainly, the primary solution to the African orphan crisis is to build sustainable, community-based programs to care for the children. Many examples are beginning to spring up, and although the efficacy of such programs in terms of providing for the physical and emotional needs of children should be evaluated, the programs provide culturally appropriate options for children. In-country adoptions should be fostered through education and support. In this larger context, international adoption is not a panacea for African orphans. On the contrary, it is a relatively short-term, small solution to a huge problem calling for efforts on a heroic scale. Only when kinship and community efforts fail to provide a safe and loving family for the child should adoption be considered, starting with in-country options if they are appropriate in the cultural context. In the meantime, the global community should consider the option of international adoption. Adoption must be approached with careful planning and safeguards in place. The numbers of children thus served will be relatively few, but the positive effect on each child may outweigh the potential downsides of international adoption. If carried out with respect to the history and culture of the child's African origins and with meticulous attention to the ethical and legal details, it is possible to offer the gift of a family, safety, and love to a small number of children. In January 2004, UNICEF released an important position statement:

Inter-country adoption is one of a range of care options which may be open to children, and for individual children who cannot be placed in a permanent family setting in their countries of origin, it may indeed be the best solution.

UNICEF (2004) cautioned that the best interests of the child must always be the guiding principle in international adoptions and that the process must provide secure regulations to avoid the risks involved. Although all of the concerns regarding international adoptions cannot be eliminated, there are substantial legal and procedural protections in the United States, and reciprocal protections can be developed bilaterally on the basis of best practice concepts provided in the CRC and the Hague Convention. Toward this end, dialogue should occur between governments, practitioners, and advocates in both sending and receiving countries.

Adoption can be a compatible part of the five-point action framework for orphans, provided that it is seen as only a small and temporary part of the overall plan. The option to place children for adoption may, at least temporarily, strengthen the capacity of families and communities to care for orphans. Pre-adoption education and efforts for same-race placements, as well as postadoption services, should be well defined and substantial. To assist in the retention and promotion of cultural identity and ease the trauma of adoption, open adoption arrangements could be considered. NGOs and international agencies engaged in adoption activities should provide other child welfare programs in the sending countries, such as supporting temporary foster care arrangements while families shore up their resources and increasing access to medical services, education, and nutrition. Such child welfare activities should concentrate on programs and practices that build long-term capacity; for example, hiring local leadership and using community networks for orphan care. Continuing collaboration among governments and child welfare leaders should be facilitated with ongoing reviews of adoption policies and practices. Research should focus on the cultural implications of adoption practices and outcomes of African international adoptions. Exchanges with African colleagues, joint conferences, and student internships would also provide channels for enhanced dialogue on this topic.

Throughout sub-Saharan Africa today, extended families are caring for more than 90 percent of orphaned children.
-Roby, Jini L., Shaw, Stacesy A.; The African Orphan Crisis and International Adoption; Social Work; Jul2006, Vol. 51 Issue 3
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.

Personal Reflection Exercise #3
The preceding section contained information about African orphans and international adoptions. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 17
What are some reasons that American parents may consider international adoption? Record the letter of the correct answer the CEU Answer Booklet.

Others who bought this Adoption Course
also bought…

Scroll DownScroll UpCourse Listing Bottom Cap

CEU Answer Booklet for this course | Adoption
Forward to Section 18
Back to Section 16
Table of Contents