This is the second in a series of blogs where DC127 Founders Amy and Aaron Graham and Project Coordinator Chelsea Geyer answer your questions. Check out the first post here. If you’ve got a question to add, or have a follow up question on something we’ve answered here, leave a comment or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In this post, we’re focusing on questions around families adopting children of different races and ages.
1. How do you bridge the racial gap that often characterizes adoptive families? How do you talk about it within your family?
When Aaron and I knew we were going to adopt and were open to adopting transracially, I did a lot of research surrounding transracial adoption and talked with several families who had experienced it. What I found is that when you choose to adopt transracially, you become a different kind of family and you have to make decisions based on those differences. There are typically three different spheres of life that you must consider for the children you are adopting: neighborhood, school, and social contexts (like church). At the very least, one of the three need to reflect the culture and race of the child or children you are adopting. Your children need to see people who look like them and reflect their birth culture. The way we talk about it within our family, at this point, is very developmentally appropriate. Elijah will say that he and Natalie are chocolate and mommy and daddy are vanilla. To him it just helps him relate our skin color to things that he understands. Once again, I’ve done a lot of research on how other adoptive families have talked with their children about race and I know our conversations will change and shift as the kids get older. One responsibility I feel as their mother is to help give them a realistic perspective of the racial dynamic of our society, which come with some very hard truths that I wish I didn’t have to prepare them for. –Amy
1a. What are some challenges you as a family have faced in adopting transracially?
Adopting transracially has honestly not produced very many challenges. The biggest challenge rests on us as parents to make sure we help our children be aware of how race in America is seen, but to balance that with allowing them to understand their race and culture in a way that works for them. We certainly get looks as a family and it is never immediately obvious to the outside world that our children are “our” children, but for some reason it has never really been a challenge as of yet. There may be conversations that go on when we are not there, but to our face most people are extremely accepting, receptive and kind. The main challenge, which I mentioned on Sunday, in raising an African American daughter is that her hair is a big part of who she is and I have a responsibility to make sure I take care of it or I go to someone/salon who will. The best resource I’ve found is www.chocolatehairvanillacare.com . –Amy
1b. What racial reconciliation training is available?
I can’t really speak to trainings, although DC127 might eventually be doing trainings around topics like these. But, what I can speak to is the power of maintaining a relationship with the biological families. Whether the children are adopted transracially or not, maintaining a relationship with the biological family, at any level, is a really great idea. This helps the children as they get older and struggle with identity. They will then have an understanding of where they came from and the culture of their birth family. This can happen at varying levels and is not always perfect, but it can be really healthy for both the children and the birth family. How this plays out in our family is that we try to see Natalie and Elijah’s birth mothers once a year in South Carolina. The birth mothers don’t currently have our personal contact information and we don’t have theirs. We work through the agency as the liaison to communicate information back and forth. It has worked really well for us thus far. –Amy
2. Is it harder for African American couples to adopt African American orphans than for a white couple to adopt a African American orphan? Also would that fact have any psychological effect on the kid, especially because of the way the society is structured and environmental influence?
It is NOT harder for African American couples to adopt African American children, it actually might be easier, especially if we are talking domestic infant adoption or foster care. In domestic infant adoption the birth mother chooses the family she would like for her baby to be placed with based on a profile book that the adoptive family creates. If the birth mother is African American, it is very likely that she would want her baby to be placed with and raised by an African American Family. The same is true in foster care. The social workers and lawyers working on a case will be looking for a family that is the best fit for the child, and if the child is African American, then considering same race and culture as part of the equation to finding the best home is certainly a priority. The main thing that has hindered African American families, or other families, from adopting domestic infants is the economic factor. Adopting an infant through a private agency can often be very expensive and can often be a barrier for any family.
3. What can you say to those who are interested in adoption but prefer children based on their own ethnicity or race?
For those who prefer children based on their own ethnicity or race, it is entirely possible. The only caveat is, depending on the race or culture represented, it could take a very long time to adopt an infant domestically or through foster care or you may find that your only option is really international adoption. In DC, around 90% of children in foster care are African American. Nationally, about 41% of children in foster care are white, 27% are African American, 21% are Hispanic (of any race), and 10% are of other races or multiracial (2011). Oftentimes, the more open you are to children from a variety of racial or cultural backgrounds, the more quickly you will have babies or children placed with you.
4. For families with children who are interested in adoption & foster care, how important is maintaining birth order when introducing a new child into the family?
It really depends on the dynamic within the family. A lot of research says that it is very important to maintain birth order, and that may be true, but again it depends on the family and the children making up that family. For our family, we have felt it important to maintain birth order for now, but I could see a time where we might have our younger children and foster (potentially adopt) teenagers. So, it really depends on the family, the experience and expertise or comfortability of the parents. –Amy
I would agree with Amy. In my family, birth order was kept for me (the oldest) and broken for my younger biological sister (now in the middle). It is definitely something families need to be conscious of both before and after a child is placed in the home. It also depends on the children’s ages. To be honest, I think it would have been difficult for me as a teenager if my parents had adopted someone a year or two older than me, replacing me as the oldest child, but that may have been different if I was younger and my parents adopted someone several years older than me. If this is something your family is considering and you have school age kids, I would encourage you to talk to your children about it, explain the need, listen to them, and let them know you’re thinking of them during this decision. –Chelsea
5. Is there a cut off age for kids that can be adopted?
There is not a cut off age for a child to be adopted, you can actually be adopted at any point in your life. Many older teenagers choose not to be adopted for a variety of reasons, but they might still want to have a legal guardian or a person or place to call “home.” Many older teens also still want to be adopted and become a permanent, legal part of a family.