Utah transracial adoptions prevalent despite national decline

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BYU alumnus Joshua Palmer and his wife, Lisa, traveled back and forth from Ghana every six months for three years while trying to secure the adoption of their son, Robert.

From left: Kaya, Joshua, Lisa, Rockwell and Robert Palmer smile at the airport after bringing Robert to the U.S. from Ghana. It took the Palmer family three years to finalize Robert’s adoption. (Joshua Palmer)

“To go and visit your child, bond with them over and over again only to have to leave your son in an orphanage — it’s probably the hardest thing we’ve ever been through,” Joshua said.

The Palmers were finally able to come home with their son in July 2015. Despite the difficulties, Joshua said he would do it all again to have Robert complete their family.

International adoptions like the Palmers’ are on the decline in the United States, according to a January 2016 Child Welfare Information Gateway report.

This decline is part of a larger national trend of declining adoption in general, the report found. The number of children adopted in the United States decreased by 14 percent from 2008 to 2012, and the number of international adoptions decreased by 50 percent since 2008.

Despite these declining numbers, transracial adoptions are becoming more and more common in the United States, according to Rainbow Kids, an adoption and child welfare advocacy group.

From 2009 to 2011, 28 percent of all adopted children under age 18 in the U.S. were adopted transracially, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

A transracial or interracial adoption occurs when the parent and adopted child are of different race or origin groups, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Cardell Jacobson, BYU sociology professor emeritus, has done extensive research on transracial adoptions in the United States.

He said some trends driving transracial adoptions include increasing infertility rates, wanting to help children abroad and adopting out of the foster care system.

In Utah, 22.1 percent of adoptees were non-caucasian adopted by caucasian parents, with 1.1 percent of caucasian children being adopted by non-caucasian parents, and 3 percent of non-caucasian children being adopted by parents of a different race than the child, according to a 2012 report by the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System.

Hudson Sheranian, a BYU student of Samoan descent, is one of those adoptees and grew up in Mapleton, Utah.

From left: Haley, Alexis, Hudson and Lori Sheranian enjoy time together. Alexis is Native American and African American, Haley is Romanian and Hudson is Western Samoan. Lori and her husband, Mark, adopted their three children after being unable to conceive. (Hudson Sheranian)

When Sheranian’s parents were unable to conceive, they adopted him and two other children of different races: Alexis, who is of Native American and African American descent, and Haley, who is Romanian.

Sheranian said while being part of an interracial family is unique, he wouldn’t classify it as a challenge.

“Growing up, our parents would definitely always share with us and make it very clear that our heritage and where we came from were empowering, but at the same time the most important thing we were a part of was this family,” Sheranian said.

Jacobson said transracial adoptees often experience an identity crisis when their heritage and adopted family cultures clash. He said each case varies by a number of different factors, including age, stage of life and racial education.

In his opinion, the families who are the most successful with transracial adoption are those who include both their own culture and the child’s culture in their upbringing.

“Those (families) that become involved in the community of origin of the child probably have the best outcomes because essentially you’ve got to help the children bridge that (cultural) gulf,” Jacobson said.

Robert, Rockwell and Kaya Palmer bonded right away, according to their father, Joshua. He said out of his children, Robert is probably the most like him. (Joshua Palmer)

Joshua Palmer said he already has talks with his son about his Ghanaian heritage and plans to explain tougher subjects like race inequality when it’s age appropriate.

“I think it’s important to mix conversations of being proud of his heritage with the reality of being a different race, particularly black in America,” Joshua said.

Joshua said he has relied on the advice of other black friends living in Utah and in America during his efforts to help Robert be proud of who he is.

Sheranian was able to more fully connect with his culture during his service as an LDS missionary in Hawaii. He served in several Samoan wards and said it was an “amazing blessing” to be more deeply ingrained in the culture.

While Sheranian is thankful for his native heritage, he said he feels being adopted and of a different race than his parents is simply an “added bonus” because he can benefit from being involved in both cultures.

Joshua said his family’s experience with transracial and international adoption has also been positive and has helped his family become better global citizens.

From left: Kaya, Joshua, Lisa, Robert and Rockwell Palmer pose for a family photo. Joshua Palmer said adopting Robert from Ghana helped his family become better global citizens. (Joshua Palmer)

“Going through a process like this really breaks you out of a certain sense of entitlement when you realize there are smart, capable, intelligent, incredible kids just like Robert who are still in an orphanage right now,” Joshua said. “A lot of the privileges we have, we did nothing to deserve. It’s about where we were born.”

Joshua said while the process of adopting Robert was full of challenges, it was a simple equation for him: Robert needed a family, and they wanted to give Robert a home.

“He’s an amazing kid and fully a part of our family,” Joshua said. “I can’t even imagine not having him here with us.”

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