Issues of race and culture remain at the center of many controversial and conflicting conversations within our society. The political, medical and social justice systems tend to highlight significant disparities among minority groups, but our social services sector also displays a grim reality.
The marginalization of minority groups can impact a variety of areas within the social service sector, but has the greatest impact on a very vulnerable population: children in foster care. The foster care system is inundated with children from a variety of backgrounds. Historically, there has been a great disproportionality of African American children who are a part of this system, leaving many to ask the question, “Why?”
In Fresno, California, many African American children who enter into the foster care system remain for several years before the possibility of adoption or reunification become a reality. In 2014, 64% of African American children who entered the foster care system remained for a period greater than 2 years, with only 7% being adopted. “Why?”
Do statistics like these reflect a heartless society filled with racist thoughts? Not necessarily. One can easily come across this information and harbor resentment for prospective caregivers that further drives the misconceptions of race and culture in our society. The sad reality is that these issues remain unfamiliar to us and when we lack the resources to understand transracial adoption, it becomes a difficult concept to approach with assurance.
We previously met the Jones Family and their 13 year old son Omari. Although the Jones were aware of their commitment to a long-term relationship with Omari, they were unprepared for the many challenges that would appear throughout this journey. Faced with criticism from friends and family who questioned their decision to adopt trans-racially, the Jones’ had to learn how to navigate new territory.
Despite the success found in adoption stories similar to the Jones’, many caregivers remain hesitant and unsure of how to approach this issue. Questions like “what if this child resents me?”, “how do I care for them?”, and “what do they truly need?” create a fear in approaching the unknown, leaving many children in the shadows. It is extremely important to understand that the fear of transracial adoption is not necessarily caused by racist thoughts or a blatant disregard for the hurting. What these statistics reflect is a broken system that lacks an understanding of cultural implications and the personal narrative. In the midst of this chaos, caregivers want to know one thing—“How do I provide intentional care for a child without inciting their experiences with pain and injustice?”
For the Jones this meant creating a balance between two worlds. There was an intentionality about the love and care that was extended to help Omari understand who he is and where he comes from. Things like attending a predominantly black church and being immersed in a diverse community created the space for dialogue and growth within this family. While tough conversations surrounding issues of social justice took place, difficulties were combated with the humor of learning and growing as a family. The Jones knew that things weren’t going to be perfect, but embraced the life long journey they would now share with their son.
The societal barriers of culture and race can leave many caregivers feeling incompetent and defeated in their attempts to take on this task. Excessive re-entry rates of this demographic can lead one to assume that these caregivers made faulty attempts to provide a home for these children, but the truth is that we cannot expect people to excel or have confidence in something that they know little about. The decision to engage in transracial adoption is much more than providing a loving home for a child in need. Transracial adoption comes with a call to engage in broken systems, hurting communities and movements of change.
How does one do this? Although this is a great challenge it doesn’t require an orderly procedure or program. Research suggests that while few agencies provide their caregivers with some aspect of cultural training and family mediation, it goes with little use. This is not to say that these trainings aren’t important or shouldn’t be taken advantage of, but caregivers must be willing to take the initiative and put what they are learning into practice.
The Jones’ knew that Omari needed exposure to people who looked like him and shared his experiences. They did more than just talk about these things, they made them a part of their daily lives. The Jones’ knew that there would be awkward moments to be shared with friends and family. They did more than just acknowledge it, they embraced it with humor. The Jones’ knew that Omari would have a hard time navigating a society that would make assumptions about his character on the basis of his skin. They did more than just accepting it, they decided to walk through this battle as a family.
Breaking barriers to transracial adoption is more than just taking African-American children out of a fleeting system and creating permanency. For children who have their identities wrapped up in a broken system, it is important that caregivers validate their experiences by journeying with them through their pain, disappointments, confusion and fears. Caregivers who take on transracial adoption have a special calling to display a compassionate heart to the children they invite into their homes. This compassion doesn’t just acknowledge that their child shares an experience that is different from their own, but seeks to understand how those experiences shape their growing character and daily lives.
Breaking these barriers is challenging work, but it comes with a great reward. It may appear that transracial adoption is filled with nothing but heartache, but the Jones’ narrative shows otherwise. Omari recalled the many great things he has been able to experience with his family through this process. There is great delight in the trips that he has had with his family and the time that he gets to spend exploring the world with his brothers and sisters. Transracial adoption presents an avenue in which individuals can embrace the beauty of diversity and embark on a journey of understanding with one another. Through these experiences families can be transformed and brought together in unique ways.
The story of the Jones Family has modeled a great passion to care for those in need. It is important that we do not idolize or perceive this family to be a group of heroes, but we should acknowledge their efforts to champion a cause that is challenging and intimidating. The Jones’ story models what compassionate care looks like and how it transforms the life of a family.