Journal Issue: Adoption Volume 3 Number 1 Spring 1993
The term transracial adoption means the joining of racially different parents and children together in adoptive families. While this term is sometimes reserved for the adoption of black children by white families, here it is understood to include also the adoption of Native American, Asian, and Hispanic children by white families.
Transracial adoption is a fairly recent event. The first large numbers of transracial placements occurred as American soldiers and their families adopted children from the war ravaged countries of Asia. Weil has reported that nearly 3,000 Japanese children were adopted by Americans between 1948 and 1962, and that 840 Chinese children were adopted, mostly by white American families, during this same period.1 However, because of international relief efforts and indigenous economic and social developments, the number of such adoptions gradually decreased and had become very small by the 1960s.
The Korean War (1950-1953) created renewed interest in transracial placements. Harry Holt, an American farmer, sought homes for children dislocated by the Korean War. His efforts resulted in the creation of the largest international adoption program. Today the Holt program places children not only in the United States but throughout the developed world. More than 38,000 adoptions of Korean children in America took place between 1953 and 1981.l Since 1974, Korea has introduced legislation to reduce the intercountry adoption of Korean children and to promote adoption within Korea.2 Nevertheless, between 1,000 and 2,000 Korean children are adopted in the United States each year, usually by white Americans.
The Vietnam War added to the numbers of Asian transracial adoptions. American involvement in the war and in relief efforts fostered the placement of many refugee children in white American homes; but as American military involvement in Vietnam concluded, the number of adoptions of Vietnamese children by U.S. citizens decreased to very small numbers.
Hispanic children from parts of Central and South America have slowly and steadily contributed to the numbers of foreign-born, nonwhite children adopted by white Americans. Rising from a mere handful in the 1950s and 1960s, these adoptions now number nearly 1,000 annually and primarily involve children who come from Colombia, El Salvador, and Mexico.1,3
In the late 1950s, the Indian Adoption Project sponsored by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Child Welfare League of America supported efforts to find inracial and transracial homes for displaced Indian children.4 Close to 400 children were placed, mostly transracially, before Native American opposition and passage of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 finally led to the abandonment of these efforts.
A major part of transracial adoption has involved the placement of black children in white homes. Evidence suggests that there were few such adoptions during the 1940s and 1950s,5 but in the early 1960s there began an increase in the number of black-white transracial placements which continued until the early 1970s. Sparked by citizen advocacy groups in Montreal, Canada (Parents to Adopt Minority Youngsters) and in rural Minnesota (the Open Door Society), interest in transracial placements spread throughout the country.4 Social service agencies became increasingly involved in making such placements, which rose steadily through the 1960s and peaked in 1971 with more than 2,500 black-white transracial adoptions that year.6 Between 1960 and 1976, more than 12,000 of these adoptions were recorded.7
When the interest in transracial placement began to widen, adoption policymakers felt obliged to reevaluate earlier adoption standards which discouraged this practice. Well aware of the negative social and psychological impacts of childhood institutionalization and foster care, agency leaders saw transracial placement as one way to avoid these problems. The Child Welfare League of America explicitly stated in the 1968 edition of Standards for Adoption Service8 that "racial background in itself should not determine the selection of a home for a child." At that time many policymakers supported transracial adoption as a means of achieving permanency for children with disrupted family lives.