More thoughts about MEPA

The more I think about MEPA, the more I have come to believe that the legislation not only disadvantages children of color, but it disadvantages the white adoptive parents of those children of color.

Here are some more of my thoughts regarding MEPA.

The major criticism of pre-MEPA practice was that children were being delayed or denied an adoptive home because of race. On it’s face value, I agree with that sentiment. Race as the sole factor is not the only thing that should be considered when placing a child into an adoptive home.

However, what I strongly disagree with is making it illegal to educate or require some self-assessment for prospective adoptive parents on the cultural and racial consequences in a transracial adoptive placement.

If we think about idea of children being "denied and delayed" placement based on race-matching in the same breath we talk about prospective adoptive parents being singled out or asked to participate in extra pre-adoption education, to me there is a false connection between the two.

Children in foster care who are waiting for adoption are not substantially delayed a prospective adoptive home because pre-adoptive parents must take a day-long class on diversity issues. The thing is, pre-adoptive parents must go through the training and the home study process anyway, before they can even adopt. Most pre-adoptive parents don’t know who they are going to adopt when they step in the door. The matching part is done after the training and approved home study.

In other words, the assessment of the readiness of a pool of pre-adoptive parents must be done anyway. Preparing prospective adoptive parents is done before the social worker begins to consider them for any specific children, unless the prospective adoptive parent is a relative or kin. So the argument that requiring additional trainings or self-assessments prior to the home study makes children "languish in foster care" doesn’t make sense to me.

I also want to point out that I really strongly believe we need to stop thinking that race is the only important thing to consider in adoption. I think that more broadly, culture can be even a bigger obstacle. Culture would include things like language, religion and spirituality, socialization and even food.

For example, I know of one youth who was adopted by a family who was a strict vegan. The child, a 12-year old at the time, was a big meat & potatoes kind of kid. Believe it or not, it wasn’t the child’s past history of abuse and attachment disorders that caused the placement to fail – it was the fact that the parents wanted the child to be vegan and refused to cook anything with meat.

Church is another big issue. Another example: a child that has grown up in a Pentecostal church with an African American congregation. This is the place where this child feels safe and secure and feels connected to a community. She wants to continue attending this church if adopted. What would be the emotional cost to this child if she was placed in a home that required her attendance at a Catholic church? Again, this is the kind of cultural consideration that could disrupt a potential adoptive placement.

I often wonder if this is part of the reason so many adoptive parents want younger children – so they can "imprint" their values and beliefs and culture on a child before they’ve had a chance to develop their own identities. There is more of an evolution in thinking about children as blank slates from even a decade ago. While I understand that sentiment (wanting to imprint one’s values and beliefs on to a child), the majority of those kids "lingering and languishing" are older kids, 8+ years, with siblings. For families adopting these kids, they must understand that they have personalities and identities – whether acknowledged or not – and our laws and policies are telling those kids and prospective adoptive parents that a big part of their identities don’t matter and aren’t important.

When we make preparation for transracial adoption as diametrically opposed to an adoptive placement then we are in more trouble than we even know. Are there really only two choices here – train and prepare adoptive parents for a transracial adoption or force a child to linger on ad nauseum in foster care or an orphanage? Are we trying to say that each can only be considered as linked to the other? Is it not possible to do both at the same time? Are we that singular and uncreative in the way we think and behave?

(Think of it in this way also – voluntarily making it a point to be educated on transracial adoption issues can only make your home study look better to a social worker. If I had two home studies – both white families with comparable strengths – and one of them was more educated and prepared for a transracial adoption, given all other things being equal which family do you think I’d want to place my African American child with?)

I found these quotes from a blog last week, however I don’t want to link the blog where I found this because I don’t want to inundate (or indulge) the blogger. These comments were made in regard to the Evan B. Donaldson report on MEPA. This is the kind of opinion that makes me realize just how far we have to go. This blogger writes,

1) I don’t care what color you are, unless you live under a rock how could black families not know that
black kids are in foster care? Why do they need to be sought out? Are
they trying to tell us that black families don’t know that black kids
are wasting away in foster care…..they need to be told, be sought out
and shown? Nobody had to recruit me or seek me out to adopt….I wanted
to….if black families are not adopting foster kids….did anybody ever
think maybe they don’t want to? I don’t buy that black families need to
be recruited in order to adopt black foster children.

So . . . is this person saying that the African American community is at fault for not adopting? After all when this blogger says, "Nobody had to recruit me" – it’s just another way of denigrating the African American community and not understanding historically the child welfare system. Maybe this blogger isn’t aware of the National Urban League/African American Pulse study of African American families who applied for adoption between 1981 and 1993 and how of over 800 families only two were accepted. Maybe this blogger hasn’t read Dorothy Robert’s book, "Shattered Bonds" or "Children of the Storm" by Billingsley and Giovannoni, which document the historical institutional racism against African American families in the child welfare system. I guess this woman doesn’t understand the fear Black families have of White-run institutions and how much they have been "screened out" versus white families who want to adopt. For every white family that responded a few days ago sharing their story of being run-around by the foster care system, how many African American families were treated the same?

And I can only imagine with these attitudes what this blogger, a white parent of a child of color, is subtly (or not) telling her African American child about her "people."

2) They want to take the group of people that IS adopting black kids
and make them undergo some sort of “special training”…..would this be
like the “special training” I had to go through to adopt an abused and
neglected child. (And I would assume that only a black social worker
would be able to lead this special training?) It makes perfect sense to
make the process that much longer and more time consuming for the group
of people that ARE adopting foster kids. (inject sarcasm) What about if
the child is biracial? Do you only have to take half the class? What
about if you’re in a racially mixed marriage….does only the white
person have to take the class? Go ahead and add a required cultural
class to adopting a foster child….knowledge is great….so why stop at
adopting a black child? What about if a black family adopts a white
child? What kind of special training will they get to assure that
“prospective parents receive training as well as counseling related to
the child’s cultural, racial, religious, ethnic, and linguistic
background”. How about if you adopt a foster child that was born into a
different religion than you? And lets not stop at foster kids! Let’s
make it required for international adoption and private, infant adoption! Hell….let’s make it a requirement for racially mixed couples having biological children.

Um. Okay. Well, again, an extra day or two in the pre-adoption training phase is not going to substantially add time to a child being placed. The time it takes for a child to be placed has more to do with social workers prioritizing adoption and to be more open to families not less. A child is not "languishing" for months in foster care because families were not made to go to a "transracial adoption" training.

Second, just because one is biracial or part of an interracial marriage does not mean they understand everything that a transracially adopted child needs. There is the transracial part – and then there is the adoption part. Both separately have their own concerns and together even more. And as far as a Black family adopting a white child – well, this happens albeit rarely. And I think that yes, Black families adopting children of other races and ethnicities need to have the same understanding of the importance of affirming their child’s racial identity in a healthy and positive way.

I know this blogger is just ranting, but the undercurrent of racism concerns me.

I think a lot of adopted persons and a lot of adoptive parents have both demonized the social worker and "the system" and I also think very few outside the profession understand how difficult adoption and child placement is. The social workers are often completely over worked and I’m sure it’s not hard to figure out that no one goes into social work for the great salary. They have a tough job to do with very little resources and often a lot of personal feelings about why they care about kids. Every day, each decision that is made regarding a child is like adding another 5 lbs. of responsibility on one’s shoulders. It’s not a job that social workers take lightly. The decisions that are made – even if it’s not the best decision – are made because the social worker believes it is in the best interest of the child.

Everyone just had a different belief about what that best interest is.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

5 thoughts

  1. You are exactly right. Just yesterday I was talking about this with my mother. I am a white adoptive mother of 3 kids – 1 is Latina and 2 are Black. I was really surprised in meeting other Adoptive families at how the education and preparation for trans-racial issues, cultural changes, etc varied so greatly depending on who the SW was.
    The thing is, everyone in the situation wants an adoption to be successful. It makes no sense to NOT be as prepared as possible, to NOT get all the information one can on the challenges that will be faced. It’s ignorant to think that adoptive families won’t encounter some issues. Add in the trans-racial component, the differences in culture… it’s inevitable that there will at least be some ‘adjustments’ due on everyone’s part and likely some difficult situations. To not prepare the clients (on the part of the SW’s) is not doing their job. When the parents don’t prepare themselves they aren’t doing their job, either – as parents.
    I certainly don’t have all of the answers as to how to handle the challenges my family will face. I am learning everyday, seeking out information constantly – and still anxious, hoping that I can do enough and that I can do it right. I don’t want to sound like I pompously have it all figured out. I definitely need all the help I can get. I just don’t understand adoptive parents, any parents, not wanting to fully equip themselves to be the best parent they can be.

  2. Thanks, Jae Ran. I’m still new to writing an adoption blog and didn’t do well enunciating what bothers me about MEPA and some of the backlash I’ve seen to the recent report. This gets at all of it. I may have sounded harder on social workers than I should have been, but making the actual placements isn’t a job I wouldn’t like to have (except in one of those benevolent despot daydreams where everything would go my way) and I can’t imagine how much pressure and worry there must be on that end of things.
    I’m early enough in the process of moving toward adopting that I don’t have to worry about impatience yet. Instead, I’m focusing on education and self-reflection and all that good stuff, and I appreciate the role your blog has played in my education and politicization over the last few years.

  3. Thank you… I’ve been waiting to see what you were going to say.
    You should read (if you haven’t already) Russel Moore’s essay in Touchstone… (and comments)… and then the follow-up interview with Dr. Albert Mohler… both are responding to the NYTimes article about the Donaldson report and MEPA.
    Talk about a long way to go. Sorry but I don’t have the links at hand but a search should be quick.

  4. Attitudes like the one quoted above are why online support communities for adoptive parents are often very hostile places for adoptive parents of color. We are frequently talked “at” as if we’re superfluous, or don’t even exist… There are plenty of us on the internet and we don’t appreciate being so casually insulted and slandered.

  5. Good post.
    I think there’s a huge misunderstanding out there regarding this law, even among supposed experts. People are simply not understanding that the law as it’s being enforced prevents additional training. I’ve seen several blogs and message board posts scoffing at that notion.
    As far as the ignorant blogger. Did you consider posting your comments to that blog directly? I read through that blog and some linked over through comments and I’m starting to think there are several levels of “getting it” so to speak. There are some rather thoughtful things on that foreverparents web site that seem to contradict the attitude espoused in that one post.

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