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Adoption-Telling the Child about Rape, Incest and Other Birth Circumstances
Adoption: Telling the Child about Rape, Incest and Other Birth Circumstances - 10 CEUs

Section 23
3 Components to Fighting Racism in Intercountry Adoption

CEU Question 23 | CEU Answer Booklet | Table of Contents | Adoption
Psychologist CEs, Social Worker CEUs, Counselor CEUs, MFT CEUs

Related to difficulties in establishing positive racial and cultural identity, the effect of racism on intercountry adoptees is largely unexplored, as is the ability of white parents to teach their children of color survival skills to cope with racism. Reports from adult Korean adoptees, however, provide at least some evidence of racist or stereotypical remarks being aimed at the adoptee and the adoptive family (Huh, 1997). In addition, Vroegh (1992) reported that transracial adoptees in her study, based in Chicago, were more likely to experience racial teasing than in racial adoptees. Furthermore, there is evidence that transracial adoptive parents have advised their children to ignore racial incidents (Andujo, 1988; Vroegh) rather than to use more active coping skills.

Findings such as these have led to discussions about the special needs of transracial adoptive parents. For the most part, the discussions are focused on the need for parents to increase their awareness, skills, and knowledge in three areas: (1) racial awareness, (2) survival skills, and (3) multicultural family planning. The expectation is that improvements in parents' abilities in these areas will translate into better outcomes for their children. Although this expectation is logical, it is important to note that empirical evidence of this relationship has not been firmly established. Huh (1997) provided some support, noting that Korean adoptees are more likely to identify as Korean American when parents are actively involved in Korean culture.

Conceptual Definitions of the Three Components
Each of the three areas can be defined conceptually using related literature.

Racial Awareness. Racial awareness on the part of transracial adoptive parents is an area that is discussed often in transracial adoption literature (for example, Kallgren & Caudill, 1993; Smith, 1994; Zuniga, 1991). Borrowing from the area of social work for definition, multicultural or racial awareness refers to a person's awareness of how the variables of race, ethnicity, culture, language, and related power status operate in one's own and other's lives (Greene et al., 1998). In addition, it includes an understanding of the dynamics of racism, oppression, and other forms of discrimination (McPhatter, 1997).

Self-awareness is a starting point for TRA parents. Several training program curriculums ask participants to examine their own lives in relation to the roles that race, ethnicity, and culture have played in shaping their attitudes and values (for example, Steinberg & Hall, 1998). As members of the dominant culture, European Americans often are able to protect themselves from experiencing the anxiety of being with others who are different from themselves. Indeed, ethnic stratification assigns various groups to a position in a hierarchy according to distance from European American appearance and culture (Devore & Schlesinger, 1996). As the distance and discomfort become greater, there is less likelihood of positive, meaningful contact between members of the groups. For many European Americans, including TRA parents, lack of experience outside of the dominant culture makes consciousness of their own racial identity and culture difficult.

In addition, lack of contact with members of different races or cultures contributes to ethnocentrism. Although European American culture may be pervasive, it does not define "normal" behavior, values, or attitudes. Valerie Lee, herself an Asian American adoptive mother, cautioned European American adoptive parents of Asian children to avoid treating Chinese culture with disrespect because of "our own feelings of cultural superiority" (Lee, 1998, p. 45) that come from the sense that white culture is the "universal norm." Parents also may need to increase their awareness of what have been called "white benefits" (Kivel, 1998). White benefits are advantages based on race that are invisible to those who have them. For example, most European Americans generally expect protection rather than harassment from police; count on seeing people who are similar to them portrayed in the media and literature; and do not often worry that they will be unfairly judged on the basis of their race. It may be difficult to understand the disadvantages that children of color face without an understanding of the flip side.

Awareness of the motivation to adopt a child of another race is also important (Zuniga, 1991). Steinberg and Hall (1998) pointed out that child-centered motivations to adopt do not include social causes such as fighting racism or making up for past inequities. Instead, child-centered motivations are focused on the match between a child's needs and the parents' ability and desire to meet them.

Awareness of the roles that race, ethnicity, and culture play in the lives of others, particularly for those of their children's race and culture of birth is the second piece of racial awareness for TRA parents. This is an area that is discussed frequently in academic literature (for example, Andujo, 1988; Zuniga, 1991). Several authors pointed out the need for transracial adoptive parents to have the ability to see that their child's race is different from their own (Kallgren & Caudill, 1993; McRoy et al., 1984; Zuniga). Seemingly simplistic, it is nonetheless important to recognize the child's racial identity rather than to deny it or to act as if race does not matter. To develop understanding of and respect for their child's race, TRA parents must have knowledge of the history and culture of the people, both in the country of origin and in the United States (Andujo, 1988; Jones & Else, 1979). In addition, several authors pointed out the need for TRA parents to be aware that their children's needs related to race create extra parental responsibilities (McRoy et al.; Smith, 1994; Zuniga). These responsibilities include helping their children develop pride in their racial identities as well as coping skills to deal with racism.

Finally, racial awareness for TRA parents involves becoming sensitized to racism and discrimination. Several authors spoke to the need for TRA parents to examine their own attitudes and beliefs about their child's race and culture (Curtis, 1996; Jones & Else, 1979; Romney, 1995). Romney suggested that parents may be encouraged by love for their children to examine stereotypes or prejudices that they may hold. Curtis underscored the need for self-examination on the part of parents, stating that such training should be mandatory. Others in the field of adoption (that is, Steinberg & Hall, 1998) stressed the importance of TRA parents imagining their children as adolescents and adults to consider feelings about issues such as interracial dating and marriage. These authors underscored the need for TRA parents to be aware of their own blind spots to help their children develop pride in their racial identities.

It is also thought to be important that parents become aware of how racism might affect their children and families (Jones & Else, 1979; Romney, 1995; Smith, 1994). Smith pointed out that parents should be aware that transracial adoption creates families that are visibly different from most others. The families are forever interracial and, as such, are not immune to having prejudice or racism directed toward them or toward their children. Parents must learn to recognize both positive and negative stereotypes, as well as other types of covert and overt racism that are a part of life for people of color in the United States. It can not be assumed that "white benefits" will be extended to a child of color who lives with European American parents. Furthermore, these parents may be faced with situations that are quite new to them, such as attempts by their children to alter their appearance to conform more closely with European American standards of beauty or to look more like their parents or siblings (Alstein et al., 1994).

In sum, TRA parents who are sensitive to and aware of race, ethnicity, and culture are thought to be more able to help their children cope successfully with related issues. Racial awareness also may help parents understand the importance of recognizing their child's race and of fostering their child's identification with his or her race. Racial awareness is important in its own right, but also because without it, parents may not understand the value of multicultural planning and survival skills.

Multicultural Planning. Multicultural planning refers to the creation of avenues for the transracially adopted child to learn about and participate in his or her culture of birth. Whereas socialization in the culture of one's racial group is generally congruent with the racial make-up of the family, this is not the case in families formed through transracial adoption. Furthermore, if the family is involved in other groups, such as neighborhoods, schools, and churches that are exclusively or primarily made up of European Americans, the child has no access to others of his or her birth culture. This appears to make it difficult for some adoptees to identify with and develop pride in their race, ethnicity, or culture of birth (Andujo, 1988; Johnson, Shireman, & Watson, 1987). Recent work in the area of understanding identity in biracial and mixed parentage individuals (for example, Herring, 1995; Tizard & Phoenix, 1995) and in transracial adoptees (Steward & Baden, 1995) suggested that such people may develop a unique racial and cultural identity that is based on some combination of the races and cultures of family members and the culture of their own races.

Although experience in the parent's culture is a constant, the parent of the transracially adopted child must cultivate avenues for exposure to and involvement in the child's birth culture. A variety of ideas have been suggested in the literature (for example, Jones & Else, 1979; Zuniga, 1991), ranging from those that are cognitive, such as reading about aspects of the child's culture of birth, to those that are more experiential, such as spending time with families from the child's culture of birth.

Andujo (1988) suggested that the more formal links to the child's birth culture, such as reading about customs or visiting the occasional ethnic festival, are inadequate by themselves, thus necessitating direct involvement in the milieu of the birth culture. Furthermore, Steinberg and Hall (1998) pointed out that TRA parents cannot themselves teach their children about a culture to which they themselves do not belong; they must instead help their children find role models within their birth cultures. In addition, Huh (1997) suggested that parents who become interested and actively pursue involvement in their child's birth culture are more likely to have children who also are involved and comfortable. So, although it is clear that a wide variety of links are possible, the more hands-on approaches are often advocated. More study is certainly warranted in this area.

Survival Skills. Survival skills refer to the recognition of the need and the ability, of parents to prepare their children of color to cope successfully with racism. This skill is as important for transracial adoptees as for children with same-race parents, but may be more difficult to learn from European American parents who have had little experience of racism directed toward them. Minimizing or ignoring racial incidents is insufficient for children who may find themselves at the receiving end of racially based prejudice or discrimination. They need help to develop strong self-images despite racism.

Many authors point out the parents' responsibility to help their children learn a variety of coping strategies to deal with racism (Andujo, 1988; Romney, 1995; Smith, 1994). Although it is not possible to protect children from racism, it is possible to help them actively cope with it. General strategies mentioned in the literature include learning how to talk about race and racism openly and honestly within the family, staying in touch with other families who are faced with similar issues, practicing responses to insensitive comments from others, and demonstrating a lack of tolerance for any racially or ethnically biased comments. More specific strategies are outlined in training curriculums and other materials for transracial adoptive parents (for example, Cunningham & Bower, 1998; Steinberg & Hall, 1998). Although strategies may vary by personality and situation, it is important that children of color learn to externalize rather than to internalize racism. Parents should be able to validate children's feelings of anger and hurt, convey the message that racism is unfair, and avoid placing blame on the child. In addition, parents can help by asking their children if assistance is desired to handle a situation.

Racial Awareness
There are 12 recommendations concerning racial awareness for TRA parents. They are related to self- and other awareness, as well as sensitivity to racism:

  1. I understand how my own cultural background influences the way I think, act, and speak.
  2. I am able to recognize my own racial prejudice.
  3. I am aware of stereotypes and preconceived notions that I may hold toward other racial and ethnic minority groups.
  4. I have examined my feeling and attitudes about the birth culture and race of my children.
  5. I make ongoing efforts to change my own prejudiced attitudes.
  6. I have thoroughly examined my motivation for adopting a child of a different race or culture than myself.
  7. I am knowledgeable of and continue to develop respect for the history and culture of my children's racial heritage.
  8. I understand the unique needs of my child related to his or her racial or cultural status.
  9. I know that transracial-cultural adoptive parenting involves extra responsibilities over and above those of in racial parenting.
  10. I have examined my feelings about interracial dating and marriage.
  11. I know that others may view my family as "different."
  12. I know that my children may be treated unkindly or unfairly because of racism.

Multicultural Planning
Many suggestions have been made to TRA parents to build a bridge between their own and their child's race and culture. The following 14 recommendations vary in terms of how direct a link they provide to the child's birth culture.

  1. I include regular contact with people of other races and cultures in my life.
  2. I place my children in multicultural schools.
  3. I place my children with teachers who are racially aware and skilled with children of my child's race.
  4. I understand how my choices about where to live affect my child.
  5. I have developed friendships with families and individuals of color who are good role models for my children.
  6. I purchase books, toys, and dolls that are like my child.
  7. I include traditions from my child's birth culture in my family celebrations.
  8. I provide my children with opportunities to establish relationships with adults from their birth culture.
  9. I provide my children with the opportunity to learn the language of their birth culture.
  10. I provide my children with the opportunity to appreciate the music of their birth culture.
  11. I have visited the country or community of my child's birth.
  12. I have demonstrated the ability for sustained contact with members of my child's racial or ethnic group.
  13. I seek services and personal contacts in the community that will support my child's ethnicity.
  14. I live in a community that provides my child with same-race adult and peer role models on an ongoing basis.

Survival Skills
Perhaps because of the need to tailor a response to a specific situation, recommendations for survival skills seem to lack specificity in the professional literature. Literature aimed toward adoptive parents rather than professionals contains suggestions that are somewhat more concrete. The following 13 items vary in specificity.

  1. I educate my children about the realities of racism and discrimination.
  2. I help my children cope with racism through open and honest discussion in our home about race and oppression.
  3. I am aware of the attitudes of friends and family members toward my child's racial and cultural differences.
  4. I am aware of a variety of strategies that can be used to help my child cope with acts of prejudice or racism.
  5. I know how to handle unique situations, such as my child's attempts to alter his or her physical appearance to look more like family members or friends.
  6. I help my children recognize racism.
  7. I help my children develop pride in themselves.
  8. I tolerate no biased remarks about any group of people.
  9. I seek peer support to counter frustration resulting from overt and covert acts of racism toward my children, my family, or me.
  10. I seek support and guidance from others who have a personal understanding of racism, particularly those from my child's race or birth culture.
  11. I have acquired practical information about how to deal with insensitive questions from strangers.
  12. I help my children understand that being discriminated against does not reflect personal shortcomings.
  13. I am able to validate my children's feelings, including anger and hurt related to racism or discrimination.

Conclusion and Implications
A three-part definition of cultural competence for TRA parents has been presented, including the constructs of racial awareness, multicultural planning, and survival skills. In addition, "I" statements representing specific attitudes, knowledge, and skills related to each construct have been identified. Although more work is needed to establish the validity of the definition, the current work advances the starting point for establishing an operational definition. The clarity of this definition is needed for social work practice, education, and research.

This understanding of cultural competence may help social workers who practice with TRA families in several ways. The social worker may help raise awareness and educate by allowing potential adoptive parents to examine and discuss the "I" statements. It would be expected that parents would vary not only in their levels of awareness of the three parts of cultural competence, but also in their willingness to take on the "extra" responsibilities involved in transracial family formation. The "I" statements help bring abstract concepts to a more tangible level of awareness. Such awareness may help those who are less suitable to the task to self-select out of the transracial adoptive process. In addition, training needs might be highlighted during the assessment phase for those who continue in the adoptive process.

Training for potential adoptive parents also might be guided by the three constructs of cultural competence. The definition provides a template of areas that need to be covered in training for TRA parents. The breadth of the definition makes it clear that a one-time preadoptive training session is most likely inadequate to the task. In addition, parents may be more motivated to learn about a particular area in response to needs that become evident as their child develops. For example, a parent may be very interested in survival skills when her child enters school and experiences racially based teasing. So, although preadoptive training might provide an initial introduction to cultural competence, it also sets the stage for equally important postadoptive training.

Social work educators might use this definition of cultural competence for TRA parents to prepare adequately students who will work in foster care and adoption. Families continue to be formed through transracial adoption. Future practitioners in the field of social work need to examine their own beliefs and biases about this family form and become knowledgeable about the unique needs of these families.

In addition, clarity in this area could benefit evaluation and research with TRA families. At the very least, the training for TRA parents needs to be systematically evaluated. In addition, research questions such as the following need to be addressed: Does parent training in cultural competence affect the adoptee's racial identity and adjustment? Are there particular parts of cultural competence that are more or less important for the adoptee's racial identity and adjustment? Are there particular parts of cultural competence that are more or less important at particular developmental stages of the child? Further work toward establishing the validity of the three constructs, along with a reliable way to measure them, would enhance this important area of research.
- Vonk, Elizabeth; Cultural competence for transracial adoptive parents; Social Work; Jul 2001; Vol. 46; Issue 3.
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.

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Personal Reflection Exercise #9
The preceding section contained information about cultural competence for transracial adoptive parents.  Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 23
What are the three components of cultural competence for transracial adoptive parents? Record the letter of the correct answer the CEU Answer Booklet.

 
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