Transracial adoption can present challenges for families

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Creating a family through adoption — especially one that includes children from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds — can come with unanticipated challenges for both parents and siblings.

Love is the glue that holds families together, but experts say preparation, patience and a willingness to accept and nurture the cultural diversity among transracial siblings is vital for success.

Adoption.com statistics show that 75 percent of children transracially adopted — defined as children of one race adopted by parents of another — adjust well. But some also struggle as they discover their individual identities, partly because their physical appearance differs from those around them.

BYU sociology professor and adoption scholar Cardell Jacobson said many factors, such as infertility, prompt couples to adopt. Infertility affects about 6 percent of women in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but some men are also unable to father children. 

Jacobson said recent trends toward smaller families, and women working more than they have in the past, also contribute to the desire to adopt.

Transracial adoption in particular is increasing because “the number of white babies available for adoption is really quite small because of those trends,” Jacobson said.

Jacobson, who is co-author of the book, “White Parents, Black Children: Experiencing Transracial Adoption,” found “the majority of children who are adopted are non-white, but 73 percent of these children are adopted by parents who are white.”

Some adoption experts recommend that children be placed in families that have at least one parent who shares that child’s race or culture so that a culturally congruent identity can be established. Other experts say all that matters is placing a child with a loving family.

Still, identity issues can be a struggle for children adopted into a transracial family. Jacobson found in interviewing parents who adopted children of different race that they also must adapt when dealing with identity issues.

While present in all children, identity issues came up especially with black children who grew up in white families and communities because they struggle to identify as black or white.  Jacobson suggested that adoptive parents immerse themselves in another culture, even if it’s uncomfortable. He also encouraged attending churches where black people worship and exposing children to art, places and literature by and about black heroes.

He said parents need to recognize that their child’s ethnic culture is part of who they are by encouraging them to be proud of their heritage and “do good things” for their communities.

Provo residents Julie and Phil Rash adopted their sons Adam and Noah. Noah, a black boy from Haiti, can’t blend in with his family as easily as white Adam does.

The Rashes take Noah to a black ward in Salt Lake. Julie has at times felt uncomfortable as one of the few white people there, but she said it gives her a taste of Noah’s world. She often looks around her and sees no one who looks like him.

Noah hasn’t had many identity issues growing up. Julie said when he was in Kindergarten he found a Polynesian girl, put his arm next to hers and said, “I’m brown, too. You’re like me.”

The couple said the girl then called him a racist. It’s an illustration of what personal identity (or confusion about identity) can mean to two children that are both non-white living in a predominantly white culture.

Economics also figure into the discussion about transracial adoption for families who are considering that option. David Nelson, BYU professor of family life, said he can see how wealth or educational resources can help children.

“The research … shows that adopted children who grow up in homes with more resources do just as fine as other children,” in those households, he said. “Parents need to adapt their parenting to each child’s personal abilities and talents to give them the resources that will help them grow.”

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