Barbara A. Rall, a licensed Social Worker with the NJ Adoption Resource Clearing House and adoptive mother of an African-American son and Korean-born daughter exhorts that in order for transracial adoptions to be successful, one of the key factors includes the recognition that the adopted child needs role models of the same race or ethnicity.
Although her children are now grown, during their childhood Rall selected neighborhoods carefully. “I lived in mixed neighborhoods”, Rall said,who is herself Caucasian.
If the goal of an adoptive parent is to help the child develop a positive cultural identity, heeding Rall’s advice seems tantamount.
Liz and Dan Grudus of Monmouth County, New Jersey are Caucasian adoptive parents of two African- American daughters, Lauren and Rachel. At one time faced with infertility issues, but now delighted with their choice to adopt transracially. “When we decided to move forward and the agency called us to put us in touch with Lauren’s birth mother, we were willing to work with whatever was presented to us”, Liz said. The process moved expediently. The initial contact with the adoption agency made in 2000 yielded finding Lauren’s birth mother in April 2001 (Lauren was due in July).
Theirs is an open adoption and as a result, the birth mother may have limited phone contact, but may not be privy to the family’s address. Open adoptions can present their own set of complications, however the Grudus’s contact with the birth mother proceeded smoothly. “We had several meetings with her and we forged a good relationship. For instance, we went shopping together. She wanted to pick out Lauren’s outfit”, Liz said.
Despite the positive emotional mileu, some tough moments emerged for Liz and Dan Grudus. “Three days after Lauren was born, we took custody of her and it was very hard for all of us. I was holding Lauren and her birth mother kissed her and said: '' love you so much." Be good for them.’ We left the hospital together”, Liz said.
Lauren’s 26 year old birth mother did not discuss with Liz and Dan Grudus how the child should be raised, nor did she show any particular feelings towards ensuring her child would be encouraged to develop her African-American identity. “There was no hesitating about race. In fact, she seemed to be portraying herself as a lighter skinned person and said that the lighter you are the more desirable you are”, Liz recalls.
Both Liz and her husband both understood addressing the issue of race would not be an option. “We are a public family and we know they are going to have to connect with their own heritage later on. We want to help them move towards that”, Liz said.
As an active member of an adoptive parent support group, Liz realizes she and her family face many challenges ahead. “For those considering transracial adoption, it’s important they know loving your children is not enough. Among other things, it involves constant growing”, she said.
Liz and Dan have reflected on how they will help their children deal with racial discrimination. “We’ll make them aware of prejudice, but now it’s too premature to say. We are taking courses at Rutgers on such issues as building a child’s self-esteem. We realize we have a long road ahead of us”, Liz said.
The support group and the classes she’s taking motivate Liz to seek out African-American role models for her children. “We need to try and see where the children are coming from. It’s up to us to get out and make the connection with peers and role models of our children’s race- from doctor’s to teachers”, Liz noted.
Sometimes the target of curious and rude strangers, Liz and her family try to remain objective. “You are dealing with questions and looks. For example, in the supermarket, someone said: ‘Where did you get them from?’ Some people try to find out if I have an African-American husband”, she said.
The children too have become observant and notice contrast. “Sometimes when I’m doing their hair, Lauren will say: ‘I’m brown, Rachel’s brown and Mommy and Daddy are white.’ I consider we are laying the groundwork for the next several years”, Liz said.
Joseph Crumbley, a family therapist with The North American Council on Adoptable Children in St. Paul Minnesota, raised many relevant questions on the development of racial identity in his book Transracial Adoption and Foster Care ( Child Welfare league of America Press) . “Because children from minority groups ( Asian, Latino, African-American, Native American) who experience prejudice or discrimination are subject to developing a negative racial identity, they require monitoring. They should not be expected to develop a positive racial identity without support from their families, role models and the community”, he noted.
Leora Neal, a Social Worker affiliated with The National Association of Black Social Workers asserts that adoptive parents not sharing their child’s racial group need to become aware of the child’s unique need to develop an understanding of their roots. “The adoptive parents must become part of the child’s community”, she said. Although Neal’s perspective demonstrates fairness to transracial adoptive families, The National Association of Black Social Workers has since 1972 taken a firm stand against the placement of black children in white homes. “We affirm the invioable position of black children in black families where they belong physically, psychologically, and culturally in order that they receive the total sense of themselves and developa sound projection of their future”, reads their position statement on transracial adoption.
Like Rall, Crumbley, a supporter of allowing children to cultivate their cultural roots, offers invaluable advice for adoptive parents. “As an advocate, the parent models for the child how to advocate for themselves. Confronting prejudice and discrimination on the child’s behalf is no longer optional once the parent adopts transracially”, he noted.
For more information on adoption or adoption support groups visit: njarch.org or call (973) 763-2041
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