Transracial adoption can be defined as occurring when couple adopts a child whose race differs from theirs. While such adoptions allow solving the problem of orphans by providing them with homes and families, it is essential to emphasize the potential challenges in upbringing children of a diverse culture. Family is the basis for the child’s understanding of the surrounding world, cultural interrelations and human intercourse.
The questions related to race are the most debated in adoption policy. Different points of view are concentrated around those who advocate cultural needs of children and those who stand for their rights for timely adoption).
Transracial adoption is closely connected to the identity formation. Samuels states that although it is common to perceive that a child adopted by the couple of the same race will adjust easily, it is wrong to think that relationships between those who share the same ethnicity are the only key factors for successful identity formation of a child.
Transracial adoption occurs through various forms of domestic adoption and international adoption. Differences between adoptive parents and adoptees have led to social controversies and changes in the processes of adoption of racial/ethnic minority children.
The Indian Adoption Project can be referred to as one of the earliest examples of transracial adoption. Its purpose was to remove children from Indian reservations in order to make them assimilate into society. By common effort, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) initiated this project between 1958 and 1967. Approximately, at the same time, another similar project was designed with the intention of providing orphaned African American children with homes and families. However, these types of programs were soon met with resistance from the ethnic minority communities. Social services agencies as well as organizations, including the CWLA, responded instantly by means of revising their adoption standards to a preference of same-race families.
Griffith and Bergeron (2006) emphasize that by the Fifth Circuit Court in a 1977 case, it was acknowledged that members of constructed families should resemble each other in order to facilitate successful adoption outcomes. Nonetheless, it was also concluded that race factor should not be the only factor taken into account during the adoption process.
According to Lee (2003, p. 3), the overrepresentation of ethnic minority children in the foster care system is today’s public policy concern. Lately, various federal legislative acts were passed for the sole purpose of rejecting the use of racial preferences in the adoption process.
Griffith and Bergeron (2006) allude to two significant factors that have influenced the adoption policy. Judicial decision-making is the first factor. Hollinger assumed, “the “best-interest-of-the-child” standard commonly used in adoption practice would serve a substantial governmental interest”. Therefore, it would allow the consideration of race as one element in an adoption evaluation. The academic research on transracial adoption is the second factor to influence the evolution of adoption policy. Researches demonstrate that transracially adoptees develop strong racial identities, achieve positive results on standard measures of self-esteem, cognitive development, and educational achievement. Nevertheless, neither judicial decision-making nor scholarly research has resolved the debate on policy of transracial adoption.
In the construction of adoptive families, race-matching has been and remains an influential and controversial concept. On the whole, matching played a significant role in the evolution of the adoption practice. The main objective was to maintain resemblance between adoptive parents and adoptees as if they could possess natural kinship. In order to avoid adoptive failure it was essential to match as many cultural, emotional and physical characteristics as possible. Even differences in hair and eye color were seen as threats to the integration of adoptees and their identification with the adoptive parents. Therefore, the most significant characteristics were and continued to be race and religion, although other characteristics began to fade away slowly.
Nowadays, transracial adoption is a growing practice due to increasing numbers of international adoptions and federal legislation that has made domestic transracial adoptions more likely (Massatti, Vonk & Gregoire, 2004, p. 43). According to various studies, adoptive parents have to consider expertise related to race and culture in order to help children develop positive racial identity. Vonk (2001) defined such expertise as cultural competence, which consists of awareness, knowledge and skills.
Adoptive parents face various challenges while teaching their children how to establish positive racial and cultural identity alongside with survival skills in order to cope with racism.
Three Components of Cultural Competence
Racial awareness means perception of different aspects of race and ethnicity, culture and language, as well as their influence on one’s life. It also consists of an understanding of racism, oppression and other forms of discrimination. All these features play a significant role in shaping personality. Parents are obliged to develop a child’s pride in their racial and cultural identity, to encourage interest in their roots. Without racial awareness, adoptive parents may not understand the value of multicultural planning and survival skills.
Multicultural planning refers to the creation of possibilities for a child to dive into his or hers cultural heritage, socialize and get to know the world around. Although experience in the parent’s culture is a constant, it is highly significant to give the adoptee an access to social community of his or her birth culture so that the transracially adopted child could cultivate avenues for exposure to and involvement in the child’s birth culture. Such activities may involve reading about various customs and aspects of the child’s culture, socializing with others, visiting cultural events.
Survival skills refer to the recognition of the necessity to prepare transracial adoptees to both face and successfully cope with racism. Vonk (2001) states that it is highly significant but at the same time may be difficult to learn from European, American parents who have had little experience of racism directed toward them. Trying to avoid or ignore racial incidents will not help develop a strong and immune personality, who could overcome hardships and cope with prejudice or discrimination. Parents have to be actively engaged in establishing and supporting a child’s well-being.
The ethnic and racial experiences of transracial adoptee children and their identity development are the main features on which studies focus. Different research studies attempt to answer the question whether the psychological consequences of growing up in a transracial adoptive family exist. These studies also research the way adoptee’s racial identity is being shaped in such a situation and assess their efforts in overcoming racial and ethnic differences.
The main purpose of racial identity studies is revealing the extent of comfort and pride for adoptee’s ethnicity. It is a highly significant factor influencing the identity development and with it the future successful psychological adjustment of a person.
Researches on cultural socialization outcomes represent a bridge between adoption studies and studies of racial/ethnic identity, and this is an appropriate methodology so as to examine changes, such as how adoptees and their families handle and overcome those psychological and cultural challenges which are related to transracial adoption.
Besides these published studies, which are few and scattered, there is hardly any empirical evidence, which directly would examine the link between certain aspects in cultural socialization in their relation to psychological adjustment process in transracial adoptees. There is, however, a limited but growing body of theory and research that focuses exclusively on the cultural socialization process itself, in transracial adoptive families. This literature sheds some critical insight in terms of perceptions, how families attempt address versatile aspects of the issues of transracial adoptions paradox.
Massatti, Vonk, and Gregoire (2004) have conducted research on the development and initial testing of psychometric characteristics for the Transracial Adoption Parenting Scale (TAPS). They also designed how to measure the cultural competence of adoptive parents. The importance of possessing certain characteristics is described above in the paper. Transracial adoptive parents may have not perceived life from a minority perspective; therefore, they need to learn and develop cultural competence in order to be able to teach their children later. A reliable instrument that can measure and assess this competence can facilitate social work practice considerably. It may also help potential parents to evaluate their readiness to bear a substantial responsibility of parenting.
Cultural Socialization Process
Cultural socialization facilitates individual’s adaptability and competence in a given cultural surrounding. Appropriate social behavior, as well as certain customs and values, are features that are transmitted from one generation to another, especially in ethnic minority circles. From the early childhood, parents are equipped with efficient strategies in order to confront discrimination and racism. Therefore, parents subconsciously lay the foundations of child’s model of behavior playing an active and integral role in the psychological development and cultural competence of their children. In case of transracial adoption, couples face difficult challenges they may have never experienced. Nonetheless, it is their responsibility to provide a child with everything he or she needs in order to become a unique, conscientious, all-around developed human-being.
In order to help adoptive parents reach the abovementioned goal, there are certain strategies designed to facilitate the process of child’s adjustment.
Early studies have shown a parenting behavioral model that rejected differences or downplayed the unique racial and ethnic experiences of children. Child’s assimilation result in perceiving the world through the eyes of adoptive parents. It has been argued about the benefits and losses in this strategy. On the one hand, being acculturated, child easily adapts and flows into the cultural mainstream. On the other hand, he or she is delivered from experiencing various peculiarities of their ethnicity.
Current studies demonstrate high acknowledgement of differences within the adoptive family, therefore, the enculturation of the children is being promoted. Adoptees are being intentionally engaged into activities that present them with values and customs of their birth cultures and heritages. Enculturation is about providing children with specific emotional, social and educational possibilities. Freundlich and Lieberthal (2000) state, sometimes adoptees reject such efforts, because of the intention to resemble with their adoptive parents, thus seeking ways of belong with them. At other times, bicultural identity may be chosen in order to allow children higher flexibility across cultural milieus.
According to Lee (2003), there is limited empirical research concerning the racial inculcation or the teaching of certain skills to help children deal effectively with racism and discrimination. In the abovementioned researches, adoptive parents apply diverse behavioral model in solving racial issues. They can ignore this problem or actively participate in promotion of social justice.
Another socialization strategy is child choice. It is rather rare and has appeared only recently. In this case adoptees are given all necessary opportunities and, according to the children’s interests and wishes, parents adjust their socialization efforts. By choosing, child determines the way to be raised and by that shifts parenting responsibilities away from the parents.
The strategies of cultural socialization that are described above are not comprehensive. Adoptive families may use a wide spectrum of other strategies that suit certain situation likely more. On the whole, these socialization models can be combined and utilized jointly. It is obvious that multiple factors must be taken into account while assessing the extent how far transracial adoptive families engage themselves with any of the strategies of cultural socialization.
Defining Cultural Competence in Social Work
According to Vonk (2001), cultural competence has been the subject of much attention in social work lately. These authors stressed the importance of cultural competence for practice. In an increasingly pluralistic society, it is essential to develop multicultural approach towards solving incipient social problems constantly. Therefore, it is inadequate to perform social work duties as if racial and cultural differences are insignificant.
A three-part framework was suggested by Greene, Watkins, McNutt and Lopez (1998) as a result of their review of the evolution of the concept of cultural competence in the field of social work (Vonk, 2001, p. 247). This framework consists of knowledge, attitudes and skills. Numerous diversity principles related to each of the three areas of culturally competent practice were elaborated on the basis of the extensive review of social work literature.
Knowledge concentrates on perception of life and experience of clients. The key components are related to the awareness of social worker in terms of values and presumptions, which are a part of children’s culture and worldview, as well as understanding of the views of their clients who are members of a different culture. This involves learning to appreciate differences and understanding of ethnocentric thinking.
Skills are specifically acquired to satisfy the needs of clients from different cultures. In this case, it is highly significant to pay attention to development of cross-cultural communication skills. According to McPhatter (1997), cultural competence is distinguished by its use in social work context, especially in the sphere related to child welfare (Vonk, 2001).
Sole awareness of racial and ethnic issues is insufficient. Individuals have to learn to perceive the world from another point of view whereas their own opinion is not the only correct one. In modern society, it is fundamental to acquire knowledge of other distinct cultures, its effect on human-beings, including the negative aspects such as discrimination, oppression and racism. The importance of perceiving this lies in the need to apply preventive measures or offer effective solutions.
Therefore, cultural competence is a long-term developmental process that requires a serious commitment. It involves constant learning and perfection of the acquired skills. The obtained knowledge can shape the social worker’s perception of practice and stimulate mutual understanding with clients within the appropriate cultural context (Vonk, 2001).
Lately, there has been a significant growth of population and increasing visibility of multiraciality. Consequently, the number of families that refer to themselves as transracial has increased, and this fact has not stayed unnoticed by social workers.
Recent researches demonstrate that multiracial people may be at greater risk, so as to experience discrimination or engage in violent behaviors, but at the same time multiracial heritage is not the reason that causes these risk factors. Jackson and Samuels (2011) emphasize the necessity of social workers’ understanding of all the paths of society’s development where some individual’s well-being may be at risk. Therefore, it is essential to construct a healthy society that stimulates development of the personality regardless of his or her belonging to a certain culture, race or ethnicity. In reference to transracial adoptions, family is being a foundation for the upbringing of individuals who are aware and proud of their origin. The purpose of social worker is to make sure that a child is being adopted by those, who can provide him or her with everything needed to become a decent human being.
Lee (2003) noted that in transracial families, which accept racial and ethnic differences appropriately there is a mutual bond between children and parents. Such parenting behavioral model promotes creation of a healthy and adaptive family. Adjustment is no longer a problem for an adoptee who feels comfort and confidence. As opposed to such behavior, adoptive parents who deny or overlook these differences may contribute to poorer mental health of an adoptee trying to determine his or hers place in the world. Therefore, it is hard to underestimate the role of cultural socialization in addressing and resolving the transracial adoption paradox.
In a modern society, the field of transracial adoption is a complex and constantly evolving process. Meanwhile, first adoption practices were concentrated on finding a perfect match between children and adoptive parents in order to make adoptees assimilate fully and on all levels. Later the importance of nearly identical resemblance was fallen into oblivion.
In the stead of it came other highly significant factors, such as care, love and commitment. Ethnic, racial and cultural differences are no longer factors that are taken in consideration during the adoption process as they were before. Nevertheless, these factors still play a pivotal role during the upbringing.
Transracial adoptive parents have a considerable responsibility for providing a child with various opportunities to perceive his or hers heritage. It is essential to promote cultural socialization, which results in positive racial identity development. With the help of a loving parent, child can find his or hers place in the world within the cultural identification.
Social work practice must be concentrated on the child’s welfare. It can only be achieved through understanding of the importance of connecting children to their cultural origins, promoting pride of its values and customs. Adoption professionals should encourage such activities and provide support when needed.
Any form of adoption is a life-long process which is hard, complex, noble and rewarding at the same time. Parents always become role models to their children. Each decision and action shape their personality. Therefore, eventually you reap what you sow.