A family or foster care?


Ask any child: Would you prefer a foster home from which you could be removed at any time, or a family of your own? Ask the same question of anyone who knows anything about child development -- or, for that matter, anyone with common sense -- and the answer is swift and sure: Every child needs a family, a sense of belonging and stability, a context in which to learn to love and be loved and to form the bonds that are essential to healthy families and communities.

So it is cause for alarm when Congress contemplates legislation that would, in effect, put the interests of race and ethnicity over the primal needs of children. That is exactly what an amended version of the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act of 1993 would do. Introduced last spring by Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, the original intent was to strengthen civil rights laws that make it illegal to discriminate in the delivery of services on the basis of race or ethnicity. Under those laws, it is illegal to delay a child's adoption on the basis of race. In practice, however, it is common for social workers to let black children languish in foster care rather than see them adopted by a non-black family.

When black social workers went on record two decades ago in opposition to transracial adoptions, they had some legitimate grievances. In many cases, agencies did not put enough effort into recruiting black adoptive families for black children.

That is not the case now. Black families adopt at about the same rate as white families, but a higher proportion of black children are waiting for homes. The reality is that unless a bias against transracial adoption is erased, many black children now in foster care will never be adopted. That bias persists despite overwhelming evidence that children can thrive in multi-ethnic families, and that these families do not rob black children of their racial identity.

The original bill drew wide support, including that of the Rev. Jesse Jackson. But opponents of transracial adoption, primarily social workers, have succeeded in adding language that would, in practice, condone a bias against transracial adoption. That language should be removed or the bill should be killed. As currently amended, it would only make matters worse.

When the House deals with the issue, the Black Caucus -- and Rep. Kweisi Mfume as its leader -- could play an influential role in the debate. We hope the caucus will choose to downplay ideology in deference to the best interests of thousands of black children who are now growing up with no family to call their own.

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