Race and Adoption – American Children Abroad

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Category: International Law & Diplomacy, Public
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The United States is the largest receiver of intercountry adoptees, and has historically always been so. However international adoptions to American “forever families” have been on the decline since 2004, in line with the global trend. The decline is broadly attributable to tighter adoption controls and regulation, often implemented in response to controversies about baby-selling scandals and shifts in sending country sentiments about the propriety of sending orphans abroad. More recently, Russia’s controversial, politically-motivated decision in January to pass a country-specific ban halting adoptions of Russian children to American parents is likely to further impact the declining rate of foreign-born orphans received into American families.

In this context, and given the broader academic and policy debate on the merits and costs of international adoption generally, it is interesting to point out one figure that is reportedly rising – the number of African-American children being adopted from the US to foreign parents. Statistics on the total number of American children adopted abroad are hard to come by, but CNN reports that most go to Canada, with the Netherlands in second place as a receiving country (250 US children adopted by Dutch families between 2004 and 2010.)

There are a number of factors behind this trend. Apart from the tightening of adoption regulations in many traditional sending countries (such as China and Russia), the US allows birth mothers to have a say in who adopts their children. According to CNN, adoption experts report that international adoptions are sometimes preferred by American birth mothers, due to a “perception that their black or mixed-race children will not face the same race issues [abroad] as in the United States.”  On the “demand” side of the equation, prospective adoptive parents in Europe are apparently increasingly drawn to the US in their search for adoptive children given the transparency and sophistication of adoption procedures here.

The movement of mostly black American children to mostly white European families potentially feeds into a body of scholarship studying the historical and evolving impact of race on adoption. In the context of the US’ role as a receiving country, several scholars have posited that some American adoptive parents turn to international adoption, over domestic adoption, for reasons of race. Solangel Maldonado, for example, has argued that the “racial hierarchy in the adoption market places white children at the top, African American children at the bottom, and children of other races in between.” Hawley Grace Fogg-Davis, similarly, posits that white adoptive parents, if unable to adopt white infants, “are more likely to adopt children of Colombian, Korean and American Indian ancestry than to adopt African American children.”

If American birth mothers are indeed demonstrating an increasing willingness to look to foreign families as potential adopters, it would seem that the racial preference aspect of intercountry adoption might be relevant to America not only as a receiving country, but also as a sending country, something that merits further research.

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One Response to “Race and Adoption – American Children Abroad”

  1. David Papke Says:

    During the summer of 2012, I had the opportunity to speak to the law faculty at Uganda’a Law Development Centre on the topic of “Current Developments in American Family Law.” In the Q & A several professors expressed their irritation with American celebrities such as Madonna and Angelina Jolie coming to Africa to adopt African children. The audience applauded when one professor said she was going to show those Americans what it was like by going to Florida and adopt an American child stuck in foster care. It sounds like something resembling that is already happening!

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