Political Physics: Did Interracial Adoption Play a Role in the Return of Little “D”?

So last week my mom called and she was pissed.  You know that kind of pissed where she starts talking as soon as you answer the phone as if you should just know what the heck she is talking about.  Here is a recap:

My Mom:  I cannot believe that….how could she just give the baby back…..if it were a white baby she would not have just given the baby back.  This is ridiculous!

Me (my mom is still talking in the background):  What baby?!? Mom, I have no idea what you are talking about.

My Mom (more annoyed):  Do you EVER check Facebook?

Me:  Yes, but apparently not as much as you do.

My Mom (in a huff): I’ll email you the article!  You really need to check Facebook more often!

My mom was referring to Anita Tedaldi, a writer who originally told the story of her decision to adopt the child on The New York Times’ Motherlode blog. Tedaldi, already a mother of five, adopted the boy (referred to as “D”) who was found abandoned by the side of a road in South America.  The child had a few health issues, including a flattened head from lying down for too long in the same position, and coprophagia, which involves the child eating his own feces, a condition rare in humans. Tedaldi wrote that the real issue was that the child “wasn’t attaching” to his new family, and that she herself was not quite bonding with the adopted child.

I must admit that my first reaction was much like my mother’s.  Especially after I read Lisa Belkin’s blog on The New York Times’ Motherlode entitled “Terminating an Adoption” where Anita Tedaldi talked about how the issues with D were affecting her marriage.  Huh?

So this is D’s fault?  What?!

But for me the issue is even deeper.  I am wondering if Anita Tedaldi would have had the same trouble “bonding” with D if he had been white (with the same issues)?  And if race did play a role, what does that say about interracial/transracial adoption?

Interracial adoption is defined when a child’s race and/or ethnicity are different from that of both parents when a couple adopts, or from that of a single parent when only one adopts.  According to a PBS, interracial adoption increased in the 1970’s following the Vietnam War.  After the war, “many of the children left in orphanages were biracial, fathered by American G.I.s, so an organization called ‘Operation Babylift’ brought over 2,000 children to the United States.”  In 1994, Congress passed the Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA) prohibiting an agency or entity that receives Federal assistance and is involved in adoptive or foster care placements from delaying or denying the placement of a child on the basis of the race, color, or national origin of the adoptive or foster parent, or the child involved and enacted an amendment, the Interethnic Adoption Provisions (IEP) which forbids agencies from denying or delaying placement of a child for adoption solely on the basis of race or national origin.  A major goal of the MEPA was to reduce the disproportionate number of children of color in the foster care system, particularly African American children.

According to the Adoption Institute, “African American children who come into contact with the child welfare system are disproportionately represented in foster care, and are less likely than children of other racial and ethnic groups to move to permanency in a timely way.  Approximately 64% of children waiting in foster care are of minority background and out of all foster children waiting for adoption 51% are Black and 11% are Hispanic.  Moreover, African American children, as well as Native American children, also have lower rates of adoption than those of other races and ethnicities.”

However, according to the Adoption Institute “the enactment of the MEPA and the IEP has not resulted in equity in achieving permanency for African American children awaiting adoption. The adoption rates of Black children (as well as Native Americans) have remained consistently lower than those of other racial/ethnic groups.  Data indicates that there have been small increases in transracial adoptions of Black children from foster care – rising from 17.2% in 1996 to 20.1% in 2003; however, this growth in transracial adoptions has not resulted in Black children being equally represented among children adopted from foster care relative to their proportion of children awaiting adoption.”

And while interracial adoptions can provide much-needed homes for boys and girls who may not otherwise have them, it is important to address the potential challenges in this growing practice in order to best serve everyone involved, especially the children.

Although, interracial adoption in itself does not produce psychological or social maladjustment problems in children – 75% of interracially adopted children adjust well in their adoptive homes – according to the Adoption Institute several studies have shown that a considerable proportion of interracially adopted children suffer from significant mental health issues due to challenges in coping with being “different,” issues developing a positive racial and/or ethnic identify and an inability to cope with discrimination.

Then again even a small reduction in the number of children remaining in the system is significant, particularly when you look at the statistics of children aging out of foster care, e.g., 27% of males and 10% of females are incarcerated within 12 to 18 months, 50% are unemployed and 37% never finish high school.

So even with the risk of a child not being adopted or even worse, the risk of little D being “returned,” interracial adoption is a viable alternative.  As a mother of a biracial child I have to believe it is possible to raise a well-adjusted kid, difference in race notwithstanding. But you need to acknowledge that race is a real issue in this country and even if you are “color blind,” the world isn’t.  So make the extra effort to prepare your child for life outside of your house.

If you adopt a child of a different race or ethnicity, then it is your responsibility to ensure that the child gains an understanding of their culture.  If you adopt a child whose nationality speaks a different language, then it is your responsibility to ensure that the child learns their language.  You need to celebrate your child’s culture, talk about race and ensure that your child has an opportunity to socialize with people from their race or ethnic group.

You need to go into interracial adoption with a realistic understanding of the role race plays in the US, with eyes wide open and know that you are responsible for even more than you would be if your adoptive child looked just like you.

Even before my husband, Brian, and I got married we spent a lot of time talking about what it meant to be an interracial couple and the challenges we would face.  More importantly, we talked a lot about raising biracial children in a world that was far from “postracial.”

Listen, am I sure that race played a role in Anita Tedaldi’s decision?  Of course not.  To be fair, D had some significant health challenges.  But I cannot ignore my mom and the nagging feeling in my gut, which both say that if D had maybe looked more like her and her five children she would have thought more about her decision.  But this is all just conjecture.

But perhaps if Anita had thought it through a bit more and come into the adoption eyes wide open, I would not have been moved to write this blog.