The Race Matter

White children can cost almost three times as much to adopt as black children; the fees can be $17,000 for white babies, compared to about $6,000 for black. That cold fact of life, true mostly for babies from private adoption agencies, is often attributed to the basic economic principle of supply and demand.

"I hate those words, but that's what it is," says Winnel Byrd of Blessed Trinity Adoptions. "For every white child, I have 45 couples waiting." For black babies, even at private agencies, the demand is nowhere near as great. For state agencies responsible for foster care and adoption, the racial imbalance is not reflected in price, but in the number of children waiting for adoption. Harris County's Children Protective Services currently has 233 children awaiting homes. Of these, 42 are Hispanic and 66 are Anglo. More than half, 135, are black.

Applying the law of supply and demand to the complicated dynamics of race and adoption may appear an oversimplification. But it's obvious that in Houston, black parents are not lined up waiting to adopt black children. There are many theories about why this is true, but no valid argument that it isn't true.

That there are more minority children awaiting adoption than minority parents waiting to adopt them, and more Anglo parents waiting to adopt than Anglo children available, has led to the suggestion that one way to solve the imbalance is simply to forget race, to match white parents with black children.

In recent decades that hasn't been a popular notion. Though the number of transracial adoptions grew through the 1960s, in 1972 the National Association of Black Social Workers launched a campaign against the practice, calling it genocide. The notion was that white families, no matter how caring, could never prepare a black child to live in a society where race still mattered. And the notion was also that the system wasn't doing enough to recruit black families, preferring to deal with the needs of white parents without children rather than the needs of black children without parents.

It was an effective campaign. But now, supporters say, the time has come again for transracial adoptions to be part of the equation. One change in Texas' adoption law made in 1993 that's beginning to have an impact on this is House Bill 196, which was designed to prohibit the consideration of race in adoptions and foster care. Since its passage, transracial adoptions completed by state agencies have increased, though not dramatically. In Harris County, the increase is minuscule.

If the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services in recent years might be described as reluctant to approve adoptions of black children by white parents, Harris County could be seen as downright opposed. "Houston is known for being one of the worst in the state," says Amy Russell, a white Plano mother who's adopted two biracial and two black children. "It has to do with who's in charge. If the supervisor doesn't believe in mixed race families, it goes all the way down. Workers are basically bullied into not allowing a mixed race adoption."

While some tap dance around their opposition to transracial adoption, retired Harris County CPS adoption group leader Odessa Sayles clearly says she sees the bill as bad news. Freeing whites to adopt black children isn't where the emphasis should be, Sayles believes. Programs such as One Church, One Child, or more public funds to attract black families, would be a better approach.

But supporters of transracial adoption say state and federal funds have been spent on minority recruitment for years with insufficient results. Blessed Trinity Adoptions' Winnel Byrd, who's black, says recruiting black parents is difficult. "It's hard to find black families to adopt, even when there is no fee involved," she claims. "They didn't come forward."

Others say there are simply too many black children for the black community to handle. "The black community shouldn't be indicted for this, the black community is doing its part," says Carol Statuto Bevan, vice president of the National Adoption Council. According to Bevan, blacks have high rates of adoption and informal adoption known as "kinship care" that doesn't show up in official statistics.

But, adds Bevan, "we've still got 40,000 black kids stuck in the system, and these kids can't wait." Transracial adoption may not be the answer, but it may be a palliative until more black parents can be recruited. "There's no reason to leave [the children] without parents simply because they're black," Bevan says. "That's playing racial politics on the backs of these kids. What is being lost in this situation is that the most important thing for a kid is love and stability in a family. Race is not the core, defining variable of personhood. Love is."

-- D.J. Wilson

 
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