Transracial or transcultural adoption means placing a child who is of one race or ethnic group with adoptive parents of another race or ethnic group. In the United States, these terms usually refer to the placement of children of color or children from another country with Caucasian adoptive parents.
In the 1970s, the end of the Vietnam War precipitated increased adoptions by American families. Many of the children left in orphanages were biracial, fathered by American G.I.s. In the final days of the war, South Vietnamese mothers feared for the lives of their mixed-race and disabled children. Operation Babylift brought over 2,000 children to the United States.
Adopting children from abroad began just after World War II, when large numbers of children were orphaned, abandoned or separated from their parents in the aftermath of the war. Moved by the plight of these children, many Americans were eager to provide humanitarian assistance.
Other 20th century global events, including the Korean War and the overthrow of Romania's Communist regime precipitated more international adoptions by Americans.
Transracial and biracial adoption remain controversial today. Some say that children available for adoption should always be placed with a family with at least one parent of the same race or culture so that the child can develop a strong racial or cultural identity. Other experts say that race should not be considered at all when selecting a family for a child. To them, a loving family that can meet the needs of a particular child is all that matters. Still others raise questions of whether removing children from their countries of birth and having them adjust to a new culture, society and language is in the best interest of the child.
In 1994, the Metzenbaum Multiethnic Placement Act was passed to prohibit an agency that receives federal funding to delay or deny the placement of a child on the basis of race, color or national origin. This legislation, coupled with the Interethnic Adoption Provisions amendment, was designed to eliminate racial discrimination and to decrease the length of time a child must wait before being adopted.
Though these laws spark debate and conflicting viewpoints, research on transracial adoptees is positive. Studies cited by the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse, a resource of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, indicate that approximately 75 percent of transracially adopted preadolescent and younger children adjust well in their adoptive homes (Silverman, 1993). A 1995 study also found that transracial adoption was not detrimental for the adoptee in terms of adjustment, self-esteem, academic achievement, peer relationships, parental and adult relationships (Sharma, McGue, Benson, 1996).
Sharma, A.R., McGue, M.K. and Benson, P.L. (1996). The emotional and behavioral adjustment of United States adopted adolescents: part 1. An overview. Children & Youth Services Review, 18, 83-100.
Silverman, A.R. (1993). Outcomes of transracial adoption. The Future of Children, 3(1), 104-118.