A long, long while ago (as I brush off the blog-brain cobwebs) I wrote that I was going to tackle the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act (MEPA) and I never got around to it. With the report that came out yesterday from the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, I figured this was a good time to tackle the subject. This post examines my thoughts about the legislation.

I have been interested in the MEPA and it’s follow-up legislation the Interethnic Adoption Provisions Amendment (IEPA) for some time now. It was the basis of my MSW paper, “Considering Culture in Placement Decisions: Conflicting Best
Practices for the Indian Child Welfare Act and the Multiethnic
Placement Act”  (and the subject of a presentation at the St. John’s Adoption Conference in New York in 2006).

It’s not just the language used in MEPA and IEPA that confounds me, it’s the whole philosophy behind it. Why are social workers prevented from helping adoptive parents examine and consider their abilities to parent a child from a different race and/or culture? And why do prospective adoptive parents get so ruffled when asked to examine and consider their abilities to parent a child from different race and/or culture?

If you were the social worker and you had a child on your case load that was hearing impaired, would you feel you could only place that child in a home with hearing impaired parents? Or, would you consider a family who was hearing, but either knew ASL or was willing to learn ASL for the child?

See, it’s not just about race-matching, which is what people always think MEPA is about. MEPA/IEPA wasn’t just created to prevent race-matching in placement, it also effectively declared that asking adoptive parents to even consider the racial, cultural or ethnic needs of a child or their ability to parent a child cross-racially or culturally was illegal. This isn’t just about giving a child a bed and a roof and 3 square meals a day. This is about parenting and raising a child in a loving and nurturing home; a home that loves and nurtures a child’s racial and cultural identity.

Although MEPA/IEPA language does not specify the following, here are some of the reasons states or agencies were fined for violating the law:

  • In 2003, social workers in Ohio were accused of discriminating against
    a white couple by requiring them to prepare a plan to address the
    child’s cultural needs and to evaluate the racial demographics of their
    neighborhood. The state paid $1.8 million in fines.
  • In 2005, a social service agency in South Carolina was fined $107,000
    after workers used a database to match children to prospective adoptive
    parents, which the federal government said overemphasized race.

MEPA and IEPA don’t specify the trainings or questionnaires, etc. but
these were tools that were being used by agencies that were found to be
in violation of MEPA. Therefore, the Office of Civil Rights and the
Administration of Children, Families and Youth came up with a guideline
(here at that includes the following below (RCNO stands for Race, Culture, National Origin):

How does the agency ensure that the following practices do not occur?

[In other words, that persons interested in adopting or fostering across RCNO lines are required to]:

  • answer additional questions because of the interest in adopting or fostering across RCNO lines?
  • take additional training courses because of the interest in adopting or fostering across RCNO lines?
  • move to a more diverse community?
  • write additional narratives, such as a transracial adoption
    plan, because of the interest in adopting or fostering across RCNO
  • have additional caseworker visits because of the RCNO context?
  • justify their interest in children of a different RCNO?
  • meet different or higher licensing or approval standards in
    order to become a foster or adoptive parent of a child of a different

If the philosophy behind MEPA was truly about the best interests of the child, all the needs of the child would be considered for a placement. INCLUDING the needs for the child to be raised in a culturally sensitive home. This is not to say that white parents can’t be culturally sensitive – but the the philosophy behind MEPA is that it doesn’t matter either way (As my husband called it, it’s the "Don’t ask, don’t tell" of child welfare, only we’re talking about parental racism instead of sexual orientation).

MEPA isn’t about helping African American kids to permanency; it’s about privileging white adoptive parents who are angry that they couldn’t get the child they wanted because a social worker wanted to find a racially-matched home. Why is it that all of the court cases involved in MEPA are because white adoptive parents are protesting being asked to show that they can meet the racial and cultural needs of the child? I think that is so telling. I can’t even begin to tell you how often prospective adoptive parents get angry at adoption social workers for discussing transracial adoption. It’s like they think we believe they’re stupid or they feel entitled to get what they want without having to have any education. Immediately people think that they’re going to get called a racist for being white. I really wish prospective adoptive parents could stop thinking it’s all about them, and start thinking about their future child!

The other issue with MEPA/IEPA is that no one seems to care about the other part of the legislation – that is the recruitment and retention of a pool of adoptive families that reflects the diversity of the youth in care.

The recruitment and retention part means that if a county agency has 60% of children in their care who are African American, than approximately 60% of the prospective parents in the agency’s pool of families at any given time would be African American. But because the fines and penalties are only enforced with the placement part and there are no fines or penalties if agencies don’t follow the recruitment and retention part, guess which part of the law gets the focus?

MEPA is known for its champion, Senator Howard Metzenbaum. Metzenbaum himself believed that race and culture should be considered, although not as the sole factor, in placement, stating "Let me
make my position clear: If there is a white family and a black family
that want to adopt the black child and they are equal in all respects,
then the black family ought to have preference." (Congressional Record Senate S14169, October 5, 1994)

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Adopted Maine Senator Finds Birth Parents

Paula Benoit
Maine State Senator Paula Benoit was adopted as an infant but obtained her birth records last year.  (AP)
Feb. 29, 2008

Paula Benoit lives a full life, balancing motherhood with a career as a state senator in Maine. Yet ever since she can remember, there was something gnawing inside her, something she wanted to know.

"I really had always wondered about my identity, who I looked like, my medical history," Benoit said.

Benoit was adopted as an infant. At age 52, she decided it was finally time to find out the identity of her natural parents. She went to court to obtain her birth certificate.

Her request was denied. In Maine, as in most states, adoption records are sealed.

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to Examine Race in Foster Care and Adoption

Sept. 20 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights
will hear expert testimony on transracial foster parenting and
adoption. The Commission will examine whether transracial foster care
and adoption serve the best interest of children, whether MEPA has been
successful, and how well the U.S. Department of Health and Human
Services is enforcing the Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA). Congress
enacted MEPA because of concerns that many children languished in
foster care as prospective parents of a different racial group were not
provided the opportunity to adopt them. MEPA’s broad goal is to abolish
racial discrimination for both children and prospective parents in
child welfare. MEPA, as amended, prohibits states and other entities
involved in foster care or adoption placements that receive federal
financial assistance from delaying or denying a child’s foster care or
adoptive placement on the basis of the child’s or the prospective
parent’s race, color, or national origin and requires states to
diligently recruit foster and adoptive parents who reflect the racial
and ethnic diversity of the children in the state needing foster and
adoptive homes in order for the state’s child welfare programs to
remain eligible for federal assistance. Critics of MEPA argue that
children are better able to combat discrimination and develop role
models to confront negative stereotypes when they are of the same race
as their parents. Supporters argue that transracial adoption serves the
children’s best interests. They also argue that children in transracial
adoption do as well as other children on standard measures of
self-esteem, cognitive development and educational achievement, among
other areas.

speakers will include Thomas Atwood, president and CEO, National
Council for Adoption; Elizabeth Bartholet, Morris Wasserstein Public
Interest Professor of Law, Harvard School of Law; Kay Brown, acting
director, Education, Workforce and Income Security, U.S. Government
Accountability Office; Joseph Kroll, executive director, North American
Council on Adoptable Children; Ruth McRoy, senior research fellow, Evan
B. Donaldson Adoption Institute; Joan Ohl, Commissioner, Children’s
Bureau, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Professor Rita
Simon, Washington College of Law, American University; and Linda
Spears, acting senior vice president, Child Welfare League of America.

When: Friday, September 21, 2007, 9:30 a.m.

Where: U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 624 Ninth Street NW, Room 540 Washington, D.C.

The U.S.
Commission on Civil Rights is an independent, bipartisan agency charged
with monitoring federal civil rights enforcement. Members include
Chairman Gerald A. Reynolds, Vice Chairman Abigail Thernstrom, and
Commissioners Jennifer C. Braceras, Gail Heriot, Peter N. Kirsanow,
Arlan D. Melendez, Ashley L. Taylor, Jr., and Michael Yaki. Kenneth L.
Marcus is Staff Director. Commission meetings are open to the media and
general public.

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights                                          

Adoption in a Color-Blind Society

I’ve only read the introduction and I like it already.

Adoption in a Color Blind Society – From the back jacket:

Recent adoption policy changes are based on assumptions that race is no longer relevant and that if government officials and activists would just get out of the way, adoption would provide one means of eradicating the fixation on race and racism. Adoption in a Color-Blind Society examines adoption agency websites and chat room "race talk" to lay bare the lie of color-blind discourse and reveal that rather than eroding, the meaning of race is shifting. Drawing also on popular adoption literature and information in the public domain, the book argues that despite the current discourse of equity in contemporary adoption, African American children continue to be marginalized as bargain basement deals. The myth of color-blind individualism extends beyond the United States to the transnational marketplace of adoption, where children are simply another commodity in our new global reality.

Pamela Ann Quiroz is associate professor of Policy Studies and Sociology at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She is also a research fellow at the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy.

NPR story about the IKAA conference and Korean adoptees

Here is a report from NPR about the IKAA conference I attended. Some interesting things. The reporter, Mr. Strother, approached myself and a few of our friends as we sat in the Sofitel ballroom selling copies of Outsiders Within. He asked us about whether we or anyone we know would be willing to be interviewed by him for this report, especially if we opposed or disagreed with ASK. We told him that we felt it was irresponsible journalism to pit two groups of adoptees against each other in such a way; that it increases the dialogue that there is only two ways of seeing things, and suggested that it be framed less as an "either/or" and more of a discussion of the complexities involved in international adoption and Korean domestic adoption policies. The reporter seemed to take our comments to heart and yet I believe that this is inherently the problem with all such media – that there has to be (for brevity?) a quick look at the two opposing views.

One of the misunderstandings this report perpetuates is that the children in orphanages are literal orphans (meaning that their parents are decease). Children in ophanages like those in South Korea (and many other countries – think of David Banda in Malawi) have one or more parents who are alive. In Korea specifically, the children in orphanages are not due to the death of their parents or are relinquished by an unmarried woman; they are there due to parental divorce. Most often, when the parents are divorced, the father assumes custody of the children. If the father decided not to support his children – and there is no forced custody support – or the child lives with the mother (again, without the financial support from their father) and she cannot financially support the child, then the children are sent to orphanages. Sometimes when the parent(s) get on their feet financially they come back and reclaim the child and sometimes the parents visit often, but most are there to remain until they "age out" of the "system."

Think of it in this way – it would be more like this scenario in the United States. A couples decides to divorce. They can not "afford" to raise their children so they bring them to a group home or a foster home to be raised "indefinitely." Sometimes they might visit, or they might not. Maybe the kid would just grow up in the group home or foster home, knowing who their parents are, but never living with them again.

These are not children who have been abused or neglected, these are just kids of "poor families." These are not kids who have been taken away from their parents.

These children are not allowed to be "relinquished" for adoption – and that, to some, seems to be a big problem. Some of the social workers/adoptees I met feel that these children are "lingering and languishing" in orphanages and that the government should change the laws and allow them to be adopted.

What about changing the laws so that it’s not legal to dump kids off in an orphange because of divorce? What about laws that support single parenting?

I think it is wrong for Korean fathers to abdicate their financial responsibilities to their children. This isn’t about children completely without families and communities to care for them. Why are children allowed to be in orphanages because of parental divorce? Why aren’t fathers required to provide for them financially? Some of these orphanages that my colleague and friend visited personally, seem more like boarding schools.

It is mistaken to believe that the numbers of children in orphanages mean that Korea has a problem with orphaned children or that it’s just about birth mothers who are too young or too poor. This has to do with a society that needs to walk the walk, not just talk the talk, about how they "value" children. Reports like this one by NPR seem to reinforce this idea that all these children in orphanages are available for adoption; they are not. And it doesn’t do anyone any good to think the answer to getting kids out of orphanages is to merely make them "available" for adoption. There are other solutions.

I think they are on their way; and the more we continue to bail them out and be their social welfare program, the less incentive they have for doing it for themselves.

Korean Adoptees Examine Origins, Upbringings

by Jason Strother

All Things Considered, August 25, 2007

Some 600 adoptees from South Korea recently attended a convention in Seoul to share experiences and to learn more about their birth country. Since the Korean War in the 1950s, more than 200,000 orphaned South Korean babies have been sent to live with Western families — over half of them to American homes. While the number of overseas adoptions from South Korea has declined, it still sends about 2,000 children abroad each year.

Hear the story here.

The Global Politics of Transracial and Transnational Adoption

I was hoping to be on this panel but work commitments prevented it. This conference/forum is going to be an amazing, historical event!

The Global Politics of Transracial and Transnational Adoption

United States Social Forum

Organization Description

South End Press is a nonprofit, collectively run book publisher with more than 250 titles in print. Since our founding in 1977, we have tried to meet the needs of readers who are exploring, or are already committed to, the politics of radical social change.

Proposal Demographics

identify as women
identify as people of color
are immigrants (not born in U.S.)
are artists/cultural workers

Session Description

"The Global Politics of Transracial and Transnational Adoption"

Since the 1980s, the dramatic increase in transnational adoption has generated a transracial adoption boom. According to the U.S. Department of State, a growing number of US citizens are choosing to adopt children from overseas due to a perceived reduction in the number of healthy infants available within the country. In 1992, the United States issued 6472 "orphan" visas for internationally adopted children. Ten years later, the figure had risen to 20,099. Most of these children came from East Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America. This shift in adoption patterns is also due to the valuing of European, Latin American and Asian children over Black children, and prospective adopters’ desire to adopt children who do not come with the "baggage" of home communities and potentially interfering family members nearby. While the United States is the largest adoption industry "consumer," thousands of children are also brought to Western Europe, Canada, and Australia for adoption each year.

Discussions about adoption have typically separated adoptees who were adopted across racial lines within their country of origin (often referred to as "transracial adoptees") from those who were adopted transnationally (referred to as "international" or "intercountry" adoptees). This separation prevents us from recognizing our commonalities as a source of solidarity. It also suggests that the problems facing transnational adoptees are primarily related to finding a family and adapting to a new country, rather than to the traumatic experiences of racism, marginalization, and discrimination, both systematically and on the personal level, within our adoptive communities. Increasingly, many of us who have been described in the adoption literature as intercountry or international adoptees have decided to redefine ourselves as transracial adoptees. This redefinition emphasizes how relentless our racialization has been throughout our lives.

As adult, politicized transracial adoptees, we are united across national, ethnic, and cultural borders by our experience. We are determined to make connections between personal struggles and broader movements for peace and justice. We are committed to challenging the use of transracial and transnational adoption as a panacea to social ills rooted in colonial histories and contemporary global inequalities. Moreover, we reject the idea that the increasing popularity of transracial adoption heralds the dawning of a new era beyond race and racism.

At the heart of our adoptions are the reproductive choices of our mothers – choices that were most often made in the context of limited options. For us, reproductive rights can never be reduced to the right to a safe and legalized abortion or freedom from dangerous contraceptives or forced sterilization. Instead, we must work to create and sustain a world in which low-income women of color do not have to send away their children so that the family that remains can survive. How can this emerging movement of policitized, adult transracial adoptees, connect with other movements for social justice – such the labor movement, environmental movements, anti-globalization efforts, and women’s movements – to create a more just world for our mothers, and for the millions of women like them across the world?

The primary language of our session will be English. Participants will be engaged through discussion and Q & A. We will provide handouts for attendees.

Little pitchers have big ears

I began to reply to Susanna’s question on Anti-Racist Parent, but realized that my response was too long for the comment box, so I thought I would share my thoughts about how I deal with racist family members, and how that affects both myself and my children, here instead.

Imagine this scenario:

The dining room table is beautifully decorated with the best dishes. Candlelight reflects off crystal and glass on the table and mirrors the twinkly lights on the tree, festooned with home-made ornaments, tinsel and strings of popcorn and cranberries. A fire crackles cozily and family members, with full bellies and surrounded by their just-opened presents, sit in front of the fire to enjoy each other’s company.

And then it happens. The discussion turns ugly. Grandma begins to talk about all the problems with the “Black folk” in her neighborhood. Grandpa talks about how he refuses to go to the “Jap” dentist in his small town, because he fought the "Japs" in WWII. Uncle talks about how all the “illegals” are taking over the jobs at the factory and he can’t understand why his company would allow those Muslims to take prayer breaks when he can’t take a Christian prayer break. Never mind that he has never asked for one. He thinks it’s wrong that the company manual is written in both English and Spanish. It just encourages more “illegals” in his town. Heads are nodding in sympathy. My mom relates how she can’t believe a co-worker called her on the carpet for using an inappropriate phrase at work, and says this Black co-worker is over-sensitive and she wasn’t racist. A relative who is a police officer says that Asians purposely change their names around to make it difficult to figure out what their names are. Or someone else will comment on how Indians have a genetic problem which is why they’re all drunks, or how Blacks are a more violent “race” of people. One year they went on and on about the problems of mixed-raced children; "mulattos" they said. Yes, they forgot that their grandchildren were also "mixed-race" until I reminded them.

And you, as their adopted child or grandchild or niece or nephew, and the only non-white person in the room, hear all of this.

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An interview with the editors of Outsiders Within

Thinking Souls:  A Monthly Literary Series

Outsiders Within: From a Far Country

November 9, 2006

Shannon Gibney

Shannon Gibney interviews the editors of "Outsiders Within," the first anthology of writings by transracial and transnational adoptees. The book’s diverse genres transmit a vivid picture of what it is to find oneself displaced into one’s own family.

Jane Jeong Trenka and Sun Yung Shin, along with Julia Chinyere Oparah, a professor of Ethnic Studies at Mills College, have edited the first anthology of its kind: a book by and about transracial adoptees. Almost all of the existing literature on transracial adoption (or, that is, the process of White people adopting children of color), has been written by White adoptive parents. Trenka and Shin contend that this has tended to limit the creative and political discourse around the issue, which doesn’t help anyone involved in the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptees, and adoptive parents). Outsiders Within: Writing on Transracial Adoption (South End Press, 2006) is an attempt to deepen our understanding of this complicated and far-reaching institution.

SG: Why the title Outsiders Within?

JJT: The title is a tip of the hat to theorist Patricia Hill Collins, who has asserted that an “outsider within” standpoint enables black women to gain unique insights that may not be available to those who share the worldview of the dominant community in which they operate. Being within—yet excluded from—that dominant discourse has been the situation of transracial adoptees; the literature has been dominated over the past fifty years by the people who do the adopting and the people who facilitate the adopting. By taking Outsiders Within as our title, we are affirming adoptee-centered knowledge production as an important piece of the adoption literature that to date has been missing.