Hearing on Interethnic Adoptions

Statement of the Honorable Howard Metzenbaum
a Former U.S. Senator from the State of Ohio

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

Hearing on Interethnic Adoptions

September 15, 1998



Let me say thank you for your comments. Let me also say I am everlastingly grateful to the chairman of this committee, to the ranking member of this committee, and to all the other members of this committee for taking an interest in this subject, because I must confess that I don't know of any area of Government in connection with which I have been more frustrated than this one.

In 1994, I thought I had achieved the objective by passing the Multiethnic Placement Act. I have probably been the author of maybe 30 pieces of legislation that have gone through the Congress. This was the only one that bore my name, the Metzenbaum Multi-Ethnic Placement Act. You came along two years later and repealed that act with my support. I came here and

testified in support of that repeal. I was grateful to you for your leadership and for moving forward in order to really make the law work, to tighten it up and make it effective. So I thought that we had made the grade.


The fact is, the law is there, but HHS isn't there. HHS has dawdled and doodled and sent out pieces of paper to the various State governments. But when it comes to enforcing the law, it hasn't been enforced. There hasn't been one State that's been called on the carpet for violating the law. The reality is, I believe, that almost every State is violating the law. Although I don't have evidence of that as a fact, but all the indications, the case in Rhode Island, the cases in Washington, the cases in other places in this country, certainly suggest it. I have a tremendous sense of frustration. I am so grateful that this committee has seen fit to conduct this hearing.


Now the GAO asked HHS some questions. They sent out a list of about nine pages of questions. Carol Williams, who I think is the deputy director, replied. The first question: May public agencies allow adoptive parents to specify the race, color, national origin, ethnicity, or culture of children whom they are willing to adopt? A pretty simple question. The answer is no,they may not. But not as far as HHS is concerned. They took 61 lines of gobbledygook, plain gobbledygook, in order to answer that question. All those answers were phrased to limit the law's applicability.


There's no member of the cabinet for whom I have more respect than Donna Shalala, but the reality is that this law isn't being enforced and those kids are still sitting out there in foster homes and some in orphan homes and aren't being adopted by parents who want to adopt them.


There's another question that was answered in a manner contrary to law. HHS told the GAO that any consideration of race or ethnicity must be done in the context of individualized decisions. Well of course. That would always be considered and that's where the discrimination always occurs. There hasn't been one action, not one letter to any governor or to any State agency saying that "you are in violation" or "it appears that you are in violation and your Federal funding is threatened as a consequence thereof." HHS has sat back. Some of the people at HHS don't believe in the law. There are too many of them, I'm afraid. I am afraid too many of them are impacting upon the enforcement of this law.


Now the GAO has pointed out they are making continued mailings to the States.


That's good, fine. But until you rap the knuckles, until you say, "unless you shape up we are going to hold back two percent or three percent or five percent of your Federal funding from HHS," you are not going to get effective enforcement. You may have all the nice speeches that you want, the lady who just preceded me made a nice speech, but the children are still sitting out there not being adopted.


The social workers continue to discriminate, while the kids remain in foster homes and in public institutions. The problem lies at the doorstep of HHS. The reality is that in this particular instance, you couldn't have had better support from the top of the administration. The President made a speech before my law was ever enacted. I think it was to a group of Black Baptist ministers in Florida indicating his strong for the thrust of MEPA. But HHS does not do anything about it.


Parade Magazine just had a big article called For the Love of Family, pointing out four families where there were multi-racial adoptions. There was a small two-inch box in the article which said that for more information, write the National Council for Adoption. That small box brought forth well over 10,000 responses, over 10 percent of which reported problems in attempting to adopt transracially.


Chairman, your efforts in this regard are much appreciated. To HHS I say, " you are failing to enforce the law." You should be ashamed. You ought to hang your head in shame because it's those little kids out there, those black kids who are not getting the benefit of the legislation that you and I authored.


To the social workers who are failing to follow the law, I say to them "you are a disgrace to your profession" because you are more concerned about this whole question of race and stuff than you are concerned about the children for whom you ought to have the real concern.


To this committee I want to conclude by saying thanks for your leadership in amending the law and thanks for holding this hearing. You are a ray of sunshine in a governmental process loaded against thousands of black children much in need of a loving parental relationship. Thank you.

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