NEW YORK - Several leading child welfare groups urged an overhaul of federal laws dealing with transracial adoption today, arguing that African-American children in foster care are ill-served by a "colorblind" approach meant to encourage their adoption by white families.
Recommendations for major changes in the policy were outlined in a report by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. "Color consciousness - not 'color blindness' - should help to shape policy development," the report said.
Groups endorsing its proposals included the North American Council on Adoptable Children, the Child Welfare League of America, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, and the National Association of Black Social Workers.
At issue is the 1994 Multi-Ethnic Placement Act - and revisions made to it in 1996 - governing the adoption of children from foster care. The new report says this provision has not been adequately enforced and calls for better funded efforts to recruit minority parents.
The more contentious part of the legislation prohibits race from being taken into consideration in most decisions about adoption from foster care.
A key recommendation in the new report calls for amending the law so race could be considered as a factor in selecting parents for children from foster care. The change also would allow race-oriented preadoption training. "We tried to assess what was working and what wasn't, and came to the conclusion that preparing parents who adopt transracially benefits everyone," said Adam Pertman, the Donaldson Institute's executive director.
"The view that we can be colorblind is a wonderful, idealistic perspective, but we don't live there," Pertman said.
Of the African-American children adopted out of foster care, about 20 percent are adopted by white families. The Donaldson report said current federal law, by stressing color blindness, deters child welfare agencies from assessing families' readiness to adopt transracially or preparing them for the distinctive challenges they may face.
John Mould and Margaret Geiger, an Ambler, Pa., couple, have two white biological children and five black adopted children, now ages 15 to 23. "There are so many kids who need homes," Mould said. "The idea of trying to find the perfect matches - you're not going to find them."