Transracial Adoption: How to Help Your Child Succeed

“How come you don’t look like the rest of your family?” “That can’t be your brother, he doesn’t look like you.” “Where is your real mother?” Unfortunately, well-meaning peers, family members, and strangers can make comments that put your child in an uncomfortable position on a daily basis.

Ask any adoptive family and they will tell you that these unsolicited, usually well-meaning comments occur with some frequency. When you adopt transracially, you become an obvious adoptive family, and this sometimes puts your child in a position of having to field difficult questions. If your child doesn’t look like others in your family, they may feel alone. This feeling of loneliness and difference may impact your child’s self-esteem. For the transracially adopted child, race will always be an integral part of their adoption story. Helping your child to develop a positive racial identity is a critical component of a successful adoption.

According to the Children’s Bureau Child Welfare Information Gateway there are no reliable statistics on exactly how many interracial adoptions there currently are in the United States, but the number has been steadily growing. Most international adoptions are transracial and a significant portion of adoptions and guardianships of children from the child welfare system are also transracial. According to the 2010 Census, 1.5 million households included at least one adopted child under the age of 18. Of the 1.5 million adoptive households, 24 percent of children under 18 had a parent of a different race.

In 1994, the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act (MEPA) was passed by Congress and amended in 1996 as an effort to reduce delays in placing children in permanent loving homes. Children of color were disproportionally represented in the child welfare system and were less likely to achieve permanency over white children. The Multi-Ethnic Placement Act prohibited agencies from refusing or delaying placement of adoptive/foster children based on their race, color, or national origin (RCNO). It prohibited agencies from denying a parent the right to adopt/foster based on their RCNO. The Act also required agencies to recruit a diverse group of adoptive/foster parents to better meet children’s needs.

If you are a parent wanting to adopt transracially there are questions you need to ask yourself. Can you see yourself parenting a child of another race? Will you be able to prepare your family to experience racism now that you are a transracial family? Will you be able to ask questions about culture, not be afraid of saying the wrong thing or embarrassed not knowing the answer? Do you have any ongoing relationships with people of different ethnicities? How will your family and friends feel? Will they accept your child?

There are many, highly successful transracial adoptions, but families who succeed will tell you that it took real effort to help their child know how to handle racism and develop a good self-concept including a positive racial identity. The following are some practical suggestions to help your transracially adopted child succeed.

Talk to Your Child about Race
Talking about race with your adoptive child is vital; a child’s race and ethnicity shape their personal and social lives in many significant ways. Some parents may feel uncomfortable bringing up the topic of race, some may feel “love will conquer all” and not discuss it, while others may overly discuss it making the topic uncomfortable for their child.

It is important to keep an open dialogue with your child about racial issues. Don’t wait for an incident to happen before discussing it. Be Prepared! Discussing televisions shows, currents events or a recent news article are a few ways to bring up and further discuss the topic in an open, informal way. If your child experienced an incident, listen, let them talk and understand their feelings. Ask them how that made them feel, what did they say, how would they react in the future? Practice how to react to these types of situations. This open dialogue will let your child know you are there for them and always willing to listen and help. If you have a good rapport and a strong relationship with your child, they are more likely to come to you when they encounter a difficult, dangerous or racist situation.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone
If possible, elect to live in a diverse community where there are lots of individuals who share your child’s racial or cultural background. Belong to a church with members that share your child’s racial or cultural background. Make sure your child knows and has a relationship with positive role models of the same racial and ethnic background. Consider going to a pediatrician or dentist of the same race as your child. Develop friendships with other families of your child’s background, and whenever possible, develop a good relationship with positive role models in your child’s birth family.

Help Your Child Develop a Positive Racial Identity –Help them See:
• Positive role models in their community and that members of his or her minority group can, and do, make positive achievements,
• that their minority group is equal to and as worthy as, any other group, and that they have the same rights and entitlements as members of the dominant group,
• that stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination are wrong and stereotypes of prejudice are untrue. The child must be able to see it to believe it.

Incorporate Your Child’s Race and Culture into Your Family’s Daily Life
Culture connects us to people who share our values, beliefs, and ideas. Often our culture determines how we process feelings, celebrate, mourn, communicate and parent our children. Intertwining a child’s culture and racial identity into their home is an essential step to creating a sense of belonging and a positive self-image. When children are able to see parts of themselves in their surroundings, they can begin to feel like they belong.

One way for parents to deal with the sensitive topic of race is to look at racial socialization. Racial socialization is an informal way a parent can provide knowledge of their adopted child’s cultural values, aesthetics, and other items that can provide a more detailed cultural understanding. Providing your child with this knowledge may allow them to be better prepared if ever confronted with questions regarding their race. Make sure that your home has literature, art, music, movies, etc. that reflects a positive image of your child’s race or culture.

Give Your Child Tools to Successfully Manage Questions about their Adoption and Race
Right Turn offers a workshop entitled Wise-up for elementary-aged children and their parents on an on-going basis. Wise-up gives adopted children of all backgrounds tools for dealing with intrusive questions about their adoption. It gives children ownership over their own adoption story and gives them a range of responses that work in different situations. It empowers both children and parents to deal with social misunderstandings about adoption. Check the Right Turn calendar for the next Wise-Up class.

A great quote came from a webinar hosted by the Center for Adoption Support and Education on Strengthening Your Family that stated the “best outcome of racial identity is not seen as a racially focused identity with strong ethnic identification, but the integration of race into one’s identity in a way that supports a sense of self-worth.”

For more information on transracial adoption please visit our website or contact us 24 hours a day at 888.667.2399. The Child Welfare Information Gateway is also a great source of additional information on transracial adoption.

At Right Turn® we are here to help and support families who have adopted a child or entered into a guardianship in Nebraska. The essence of our organization exists in our commitment to children and families. We strive to provide the support and connections necessary for adoptive and guardianship parents.  If you have any questions please feel free to contact us.