Hearing on Interethnic Adoptions

Statement of William L. Pierce, Ph.D., President
National Council for Adoption

Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Human Resources
of the House Committee on Ways and Means

Hearing on Interethnic Adoptions

September 15, 1998

 


 

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, my name is William Pierce and I thank you for inviting the National Council For Adoption (NCFA) to testify at this oversight hearing. We have some information to share with you on Americans' attitudes toward transracial adoption that is new and very encouraging.

 

NCFA is a national voluntary organization whose membership includes professionals involved in adoption, including non-profit adoption agencies and adoption attorneys, as well as interested individuals from all walks of life — adult adopted persons, persons who have placed children for adoption, adoptive parents, social workers, physicians, educators, researchers — a true cross-section of the American people. I have served as NCFA's President since its founding. NCFA's current board policy does not permit us to accept federal, state or other public funds. Before the current policy was set about 10 years ago, we accepted just one federal grant, in the amount of $50,000. This was a project focused on the challenge of serving children 'aging out' of foster care, with most of the project money stipulated to be sub-contracted to a public university's research program on independent living.

 

NCFA's interest in the topic of this oversight hearing dates back to our founding, in 1980. We have sought to align ourselves with those battling discrimination based on racial or ethnic background.

 

NCFA's first formal policy statement on this matter, approved on Aug. 4, 1984, spoke to the need to focus on the best interests of the child, to avoid unnecessary delays while seeking racial or ethnic "matches," for active recruitment programs and sensitivity to the many complex factors involved in transethnic placements. In our 1984 statement, we sought to set an outside limit on attempts to find ethnically-matching families for waiting children.

 

NCFA's policy evolved as courts increasingly ruled that using racial criteria in the placement of children is impermissible. In addition, NCFA observed that the numbers of complaints from people who were alleging discrimination were increasing. But most importantly, the surveys and work of the National Committee to End Racism in America's Child Care System, Inc. (NCER) indicated a pattern of non-compliance with the clear intent of Title VI of the federal civil rights legislation.

 

For these reasons, we joined NCER and others in support of those in Congress, especially former U.S. Sen. Howard Metzenbaum, and Rep. Jim Bunning, who sought to further clarify federal law to ban discrimination. Indeed, NCFA was the only national adoption organization testifying in the Senate hearing in 1994 in support of Sen. Metzenbaum's bill. In that 1994 testimony, we moved formally to a policy of not permitting race or ethnicity to be used to delay or deny a child's placement for adoption and foster care.

Happily, Sen. Metzenbaum was able to pass the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act (MEPA) in 1994. But good-faith implementation of the intent of MEPA was so lacking that, in 1996, with the support of Sen. Metzenbaum and Rep. Bunning, the Congress added even clearer language in its amendments to MEPA. NCFA strongly supported those clarifying and strengthening amendments.

The heart of MEPA is a simple concept: children in the public child welfare system who need adoptive or foster homes should not have their placements denied — or even delayed — because an otherwise qualified adoptive or foster family is of a different racial or ethnic background. Adoption and foster care polity, MEPA asserts, is not about color, it's about love.

 

I am here today to share information with this Subcommittee about the fact that the American people are overwhelmingly supportive of adoption across racial and ethnic lines. I assert this not just because of our strong sense, based on Americans' long history of adopting children from other countries, that skin color and nationality mean little to most adoptive families. I claim that this is so because of the response to the August 2, 1998, cover story in PARADE Magazine by Lyric Wallwork Winik, entitled, "It's About Love." PARADE's story featured four families who had adopted transracially and reported their positive reactions. The story was illustrated by wonderful photographs of the children and their parents.

 

When we at NCFA learned that PARADE was preparing the story we volunteered to have our name given in the article, so those wanting more information called NCFA. A small box within the article listed our mailing address, e-mail address and phone number. (In case some in Congress may have missed the PARADE piece, we recently mailed a copy to each office.)

The response, according to PARADE spokespersons, was about average for a cover story. As of Sept. 8, we received 4,290 telephone calls, 3,260 in the first week. Mail responses have reached 2,919. And there have been more than 3,000 e-mail responses.

We estimate that there were approximately 750 duplicate contacts, mostly telephone calls asking when the information had been mailed to their homes. Allowing for this duplication, we estimate that about 10,000 contacts (9,928) were received.

 

Because the e-mail contacts have not been completely entered into our data base, we have not yet been able to chart e-mail responses by state. We have therefore estimated that the e-mail distribution was about the same as the total of phone calls and regular mail. Totals of mail and phone contacts have been adjusted upward to distribute the e-mails numbers. An accompanying table (Attachment 1) lists actual unduplicated mail and phone contacts, and total actual contacts, by state. An accompanying graph (Attachment 2) shows the state breakdown for mail and phone contacts. Another table (Attachment 3) provides total numbers and percentages of state populations responding and a graph (Attachment 4) shows the same data.

 

Keeping in mind the technical limitations (see Attachment 5), these data show very substantial differences in responses between the states.

 

Of the top 10 states, three of the four top-ranked jurisdictions are in close proximity to NCFA's office, least expensive to call and in The Washington Post's market area. By top-ranked, I mean that the number of contacts, as a percentage of the population, was highest. The other states show no pattern — except none are southern states. Here are the top 10:

 

State Total Contacts

Percentage of Population

DC 72 .0135
AK 66 .0124
MD 434 .00817
VA 504 .00759
UT 131 .00617
AZ 263 .00583
ND and WY 30 each .00565
ID 54 .00508
NE 81 .00508

 

On the other hand, of the bottom four states, Hawaii is the most distant. But the 51st ranking Nevada, at .0000753, had less than one-seventh the response rate of neighboring Arizona, at .00583.

 

Of the eight largest states, three — PA (.000407), FL (.000406) and MI (.000391) were above the national average of .000376. One major state was slightly below the average, TX, at .000352. The other four were: OH (.000315); CA (.000287); IL (.000278); NY (.000266).

 

Minnesota, a state known for its aggressive race-matching laws and policies, ranked .000230, only half as well as its most comparable neighbor, Wisconsin (.000470) and below southern states such as Arkansas (.000398), South Carolina (.000377) and Louisiana (.000330).

 

The single most interesting number, however, is this: of the 10,000 contacts, only eight complained about or differed with the pro-transracial theme of the article. A few of the eight responses were from individuals one might charitably characterize as "eccentric." A bigot or two made overt or subtly racist remarks. One objection came from a person identifying themselves as a member of the National Association of Black Social Workers.

 

The only other comment from a person identifying themselves as a member of the National Association of Black Social Workers was from a member who said the article had changed her mind, and she no longer opposed transracial adoption.

 

Of the 10,000 contacts, we identified all but 537 — about 95 percent — as being "routine" requests for more information. Those persons were mailed specially-printed booklets, with inserts of information pertaining to their state of residence. We have no way of determining the race or ethnicity of those who contacted us, unless they volunteered the information.

 

Most of the 537 "non-routine" contacts were from people who volunteered such information, either about their children or themselves.

 

For instance, 79 families who'd already adopted transracially — most of whom were white parents — said they'd like to adopt again across racial lines.

 

Inter-racial, multi-ethnic or families of minority racial or ethnic background accounted for 184 of the "non-routine" responses. Sixty-three responses were from couples describing themselves as inter-racial or multi-ethnic. Fifty-four responses were from Black or Black-White couples. Forty-four were from Latino/Hispanic or Latino-Anglo couples.

 

Sixty-one of the non-routine responses were from couples — mostly white — who volunteered their negative experiences with public agencies. The agencies had used race or ethnicity to deny the families children. Most denials pertained to mixed-race or African-American children. At the request of Sen. Metzenbaum, we shared quotations from a sample of these contacts. We believe that, given the relatively small numbers within our sample of calls, no conclusions can be drawn about state-by-state performance.

 

What can be said is that we had contacts from 29 of 51 jurisdictions, alleging public agency resistance to MEPA.

Our conclusion, based on this response, is that Americans — regardless of their race, ethnicity or state of residence — overwhelmingly support transracial adoption. At the same time, there appears to be a pattern of resistance to MEPA in the majority of the states. This would suggest to us a need for the Congress to devise new ways to ensure that the Department of Health and Human Services takes steps to carry out the intent of Congress, as reflected in the 1994 and 1996 laws.

 


 

ATTACHMENT 1 – NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR ADOPTION

State

Mail

Phone

AL

26

59

AK

16

28

AZ

80

95

AR

30

33

CA

286

322

CO

56

43

CT

42

57

DE

17

6

DC

13

35

FL

180

208

GA

99

128

HI

3

3

ID

13

23

IL

95

126

IN

82

96

IA

37

35

KS

26

34

KY

26

30

LA

40

53

ME

11

14

MD

73

216

MA

60

116

MI

101

148

MN

44

29

MS

36

19

MO

65

48

MT

6

22

NE

19

35

NV

2

6

NH

13

20

NJ

81

122

NM

24

20

NY

170

154

NC

103

129

ND

12

8

OH

161

73

OK

12

15

OR

45

38

PA

152

172

RI

13

9

SC

42

51

SD

6

3

TN

49

45

TX

207

241

UT

36

51

VT

4

5

VA

100

236

WA

63

79

WV

11

15

WI

78

80

WY

13

7

subtotal:

2979

3640

TOTAL:

6,619

 


ATTACHMENT 3 – NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR ADOPTION

States

# of responses

State Population *

Fraction (B/C)

Percentage (B/C)*100

Example

1

2

0.5

50

AL

128

4244544

3.01564E-05

0.003015636

AK

66

530568

1.24395E-04

0.012439499

AR

95

2387556

3.97896E-05

0.003978964

AZ

263

4509828

5.83171E-05

0.005831708

CA

912

31834080

2.86485E-05

0.002864854

CO

149

3713976

4.01187E-05

0.004011873

CT

149

3183408

4.68052E-05

0.004680518

DE

35

795852

4.39780E-05

0.004397803

DC

72

530568

1.35704E-04

0.013570362

FL

582

14325336

4.06273E-05

0.004062732

GA

341

7427952

4.59077E-05

0.004590767

HI

9

1061136

8.48148E-06

8.48148E-04

ID

54

1061136

5.08889E-05

0.005088886

IL

332

11937780

2.78109E-05

0.002781087

IN

267

5836248

4.57486E-05

0.004574857

IA

108

2918124

3.70101E-05

0.003701008

KS

90

2652840

3.39259E-05

0.003392591

KY

84

3979260

2.11095E-05

0.002110945

LA

140

4244544

3.29835E-05

0.003298352

ME

38

1326420

2.86485E-05

0.002864854

MD

434

5305680

8.17991E-05

0.008179913

MA

264

6101532

4.32678E-05

0.004326782

MI

374

9550244

3.91613E-05

0.00391613

MN

110

4775112

2.30361E-05

0.002303611

MS

83

2652840

3.12872E-05

0.003128722

MO

170

5305680

3.20411E-05

0.003204113

MT

42

795852

5.27736E-05

0.005277363

NE

81

1591704

5.08889E-05

0.005088886

NV

12

1591704

7.53909E-06

7.53909E-04

NH

50

1061136

4.71193E-05

0.004711931

NJ

305

7958520

3.83237E-05

0.003832371

NM

66

1591704

4.14650E-05

0.0041465

NY

486

18304596

2.65507E-05

0.002655071

NC

348

7427952

4.68501E-05

0.004685006

ND

30

530568

5.65432E-05

0.005654318

OH

351

11141928

3.15026E-05

0.003150263

OK

41

3183408

1.28793E-05

0.001287928

OR

125

3183408

3.92661E-05

0.003926609

PA

486

11937780

4.07111E-05

0.004071109

RI

33

1061136

3.10987E-05

0.003109875

SC

140

3713976

3.76955E-05

0.003769545

SD

14

795852

1.75912E-05

0.001759121

TN

141

5305680

2.65753E-05

0.002657529

TX

672

19100448

3.51824E-05

0.003518242

UT

131

2122272

6.17263E-05

0.00617263

VT

14

530568

2.63868E-05

0.002638682

VA

504

6632100

7.59940E-05

0.007599403

WA

213

5770964

3.69089E-05

0.003690891

WV

39

1856988

2.10018E-05

0.002100175

WI

237

5040396

4.70201E-05

0.004702012

WY

30

530568

5.65432E-05

0.005654318

* State Population determined by state percentage of the U.S. population (as of 1996 the U.S. population equals 265,284,000).  State demographics obtained from "The Almanac of American Politics 1998" by Michael Barone and Grant Ujifusa.



 

ATTACHMENT 5 — TECHNICAL COMMENT

 

Of course, these responses do not provide us with the sort of statistics that would be produced by traditional polling methods. Although the reach of PARADE is vast — the paid circulation is 37,019,000 and there are an estimated 82 million readers — one has no way of determining whether the results we are seeing at NCFA would be confirmed by polling.

 

Among other variables, those who contacted us by telephone — the largest of the three categories of respondents to date — had to pay for the call. We did not provide a toll-free number. This may account for some regional differences in response pattern, were it not for the fact that the percentages of responses from Alaska were nearly as high as for the District of Columbia. (NCFA's offices are located in the District.)

 

In addition, because the story appeared at the peak of the summer vacation season, more — or fewer — readers may have taken the time to read the article and respond than if the article had appeared during a non-vacation period on the calendar.

 

Nor do we know the precise pattern of distribution of PARADE's circulation. Were the responses higher in the District because PARADE is an insert in The Washington Post? Was the response in Hawaii low because of distance, PARADE's market penetration, or both factors?

 

In other words, there are many variables which, taken together, mean that the findings should be used very cautiously, pending confirmation through standard survey techniques. However, until better numbers are available, it may be that the results we report here are the largest sample of Americans' current attitudes toward transracial adoption that is available.

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