Counselor’s Awareness of Legal Considerations
There are several legal implications and concerns regarding the recently enacted federal legislation that are of central importance for counselors. Simply stated, for counselors to work effectively in the area of transracial adoption, they must be aware of various legal implications that may influence intervention strategies.
In relation to MEPA and IEA, the following implications must be considered:
1. The best interests of the child standard: Because MEPA/IEA do not explicitly incorporate a best interests of the child standard in making adoption placements, there is concern that the best interests standard will not be used in adoption placements pursuant to MEPA/IEA. Therefore, the parents' interests can be paramount to the child's interests.
2. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act: Failure to comply with MEPA/IEA is a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act (1998). Therefore, anyone who thinks that they have been discriminated against on the basis of race, color, or national origin in relation to an adoption placement may file a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights for investigation and review. This is particularly relevant for parents seeking to adopt transracially because race is not to be considered even in terms of the potential parents' racial sensitivity and/or acuity.
3. Private lawsuits: In addition to lawsuits under the Civil Rights Act, MEPA/IEA contains provisions providing a right to a federal cause of action in a private lawsuit for alleged violations of the Act. In certain instances, aggrieved persons have 2 years from the date of the alleged violation to file a lawsuit in federal court.
4. Implementation issues: Because of the long-standing practices of racial matching and sensitivity to race by individual adoption case workers (and even supervisors), there may be a resistance by these workers to fully implement the MEPA/IEA's provisions without proper and full discussion of the law and its goals. Furthermore, the fear of litigation may cause case workers to be hesitant to exercise their discretion when attempting to determine the best interests of the child. Thus, there may be a substantial time lag before the provisions of MEPA/IEA are fully implemented. Therefore, it may take several years to determine the full effects and advisability of the law's provisions.
Implications regarding the overall success of ASFA fall into four categories:
1. Kinship adoption: ASFA does not promote kinship adoptions. This is evidenced by the fact that the requirement for expedited parental rights termination proceedings do not apply when a child is in kinship care, regardless of the unfitness of the birth parent(s). Thus, in such cases the child's permanent placement is in limbo for an extended time period.
2. Funding issues: Because there is no guarantee under ASFA's provisions that federal funding to the states will be increased, it may be concluded that, if the funding remains stable, federal funding for reunification services as required under the Act is inadequate for full implementation.
3. Inadequate consideration of age: It is undeniable that the older the child, the harder it is to place the child. Despite this fact, ASFA treats children the same regardless of age. Therefore, older children will languish in the foster care system without a permanent placement even after their parents' parental rights have been terminated. Thus, ASFA may not significantly reduce foster care drift for children who are placed into the child protective system after their toddler years because age of the child is not considered a priority.
4. The best interests of the child standard: In sum, in the law's practical application by the states, ASFA can be interpreted as making the parents' interests paramount to the child's interests, which (as discussed in this article) may be particularly relevant in transracial adoptions.
Despite the fact that counselors are not usually directly involved in placing children into permanent homes, these legal implications may prove crucial for counselors. Counselors are ethically bound to embrace a multicultural approach in support of the worth, potential, and uniqueness of each client (American Counseling Association, 1997). For counselors to minimize the significance of race, as required in applying the requirements of the AFSA, IEA, and MEPA, may be harmful to the transracial families they serve. Therefore, awareness of these parameters is recommended.
Implications for Counselors
The brief review of the writings and research on transracial adoption that we have presented provides a synopsis of the assortment of information available to the counseling profession. Perhaps the most salient theme evident from this body of work is that although most White American adoptive families provide loving homes for their African American children, only a few of these families may be able to effectively educate and prepare their African American children for the realities of racism in this country. Furthermore, many White American parents may be unclear as to what this particular socialization entails and how it translates into parenting practice.
A Psychoeducational-Based Approach to Counseling
Counseling can provide a setting for transracial adoptive families to process parenting concerns. The family, school, and community counselors best equipped to respond to the racial and cultural needs of these clients in proactive and empowering ways are those who are aware of their own racial and cultural backgrounds and how their personal backgrounds affect the racial and cultural identities of their clients. With clients who have transracially adopted, counselors must be able to initiate open and thoughtful dialogue regarding the impact of "White privilege" (see Robinson & Ginter, 1999) on the client and the client's interaction with others. Finally, both the client and the counselor must have an understanding of racial socialization and its importance in the lives of ethnic minority children.
One important way counselors can begin to work with transracial families is through the facilitation of pre-adoption psychoeducational counseling groups. As Malcolm X (1963) so eloquently stated during a radio interview at Dartmouth College, "[e]ducation is the first step towards solving any problem that exists anywhere on this earth which involves people who are oppressed." To this end, the primary purpose of psychoeducational group work with potential White American adoptive parents would be to (a) provide in-depth historical and current information regarding African and African American history, (b) assist parents with exploring their own issues regarding race and "White privilege," (c) provide parents with constructive and empowering ways to prepare their African American children to succeed in an racist environment, and (d) provide White American parents with cultural/racial information that they may be unaware of. For example, some White parents are unfamiliar with the personal care needs of their African American adoptees. Many members of the African American community can only patronize African American hair salons or beauty shops because most White American hair stylists have not received formalized training or carry the products (namely, shampoos, conditioners, and relaxers) needed to maintain African American hair. Also, many department stores and supermarkets offer a very limited supply of African American makeup and shaving products. White American parents who are not familiar with the basic hair and skin care needs of African American children or neglect to take their children to hair beauticians trained in servicing ethnic hair may subject their child to undue embarrassment and humiliation from their African American peers.
Reasons or Motives for Adopting an African American Child
It is well documented that there is a shortage of White American infants and toddlers available for adoption (Alexander & Curtis, 1996; Grow & Shapiro, 1974; Hawkins-León, 1997-1998; McRoy & Zurcher, 1983). The widespread use of contraceptives, liberalized abortion laws, and increased social acceptance of single parenthood have all contributed to the relatively low number of White American children available for adoption (McRoy & Zurcher, 1983). As a result, many White American parents "compromise" and select from the ready pool of ethnic minority youth. Although some White American parents may attempt to approach the process of adoption from a "second choice" or "color blind" perspective, they may consciously or unconsciously have the attitude of either "white superiority" or pity for African Americans. Consequently, this particular attitude may convey to the transracial adoptee a disrespect or dislike for African Americans, which may cause identity confusion or self-hate that is often difficult for the adoptee to resolve (Baden & Steward, 1997).
Counselors can be instrumental in assisting White American parents with their own issues about race. Encouraging White American parents to read narratives by White Americans who share their own personal journey toward cultural awareness and acceptance is one of the ways in which counselors can initiate dialogue on this issue (see Robinson & Ginter, 1999; Tatum, 1997).
Periodic Assessment for Family Counseling
Marriage and family counseling can be instrumental in addressing the ongoing concerns of individual families. For example, White American siblings may need concrete help regarding racism and their feelings about their adopted African American siblings (Hill & Peltzer, 1982). In the same vein, African American adoptees may need a "safe" place to fully share their feelings with their White American family members.
Family counselors can also provide resources to assist White American parents in the racial socialization process. Research studies (Grow & Shapiro, 1974; Hill & Peltzer, 1982; Hollingsworth, 1997) have revealed that the majority of transracial families rear their children in predominantly White American neighborhoods, schools, and social groups. This particular social context could interfere with the development of self-esteem in African American adoptees. Such information could form the backdrop for a dialogue on why and how White American parents can create opportunities for their adoptees to interact with African American role models and form relationships with African American peers. There are numerous books and community organizations that can educate White American parents about raising African American children in a predominately White American society. For example, books and articles written by Akbar (1988), Giddings (1985), Lee (1991), and Madhubuti (1991) can give transracial families insight into the historical and current experiences of African Americans as well as introduce them to African-centered concepts such as "unity" and "self-determination." Popular magazines such as Ebony, Essence, and Black Enterprise, which feature African Americans doing average and extraordinary things, can provide positive role models for African American children. Exposing African American children to older African Americans can be of great help in clarifying issues and questions that may arise from reading about African Americans and, most important, being African American. Attending African American religious institutions and actively participating in organizations within the African American community are ways in which White American parents can locate these important individuals who may be potential role models.
The debate on transracial adoption is far from over. Counselors are faced with the task of ameliorating the effects of transracial adoption once it has occurred because race cannot be a consideration in whether it will be allowed. Furthermore, because states continue to implement laws and regulations passed in compliance with the tenets of the federal MEPA/IEA and ASFA, it may be years before the ramifications of these directives are fully realized. It is hoped that this federal attempt to resolve the foster care crisis through a "color-blind" approach will not have deleterious effects on the psyches of transracially adopted African American children.
- Bradley, Carla, Hawkins-Leon, Cynthia G.; The Transracial Adoption Debate: Counseling and Legal Implications; Journal of Counseling and Development; Fall 2002, Vol. 80 Issue 4
The article above contains foundational information. Articles below contain optional updates.
Reflection Exercise #6
The preceding section contained information
about transracial adoptions. Write three
case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in
Online Continuing Education QUESTION
What is one suggestion for helping White American parents deal with issues of race? Record the letter of the correct answer the .