News Brief: For Some Parents, International Adoption Decision Reflects Racial Bias

Recent research by the University of Vermont shows that racial bias plays a role in prospective parents' decision to adopt internationally instead of domestically.

Racial Bias

A new study by the University of Vermont concluded that race plays a role for some parents who adopt internationally rather than domestically. Researchers conducted in-depth interviews with 41 mostly white parents who had, collectively, adopted 33 children of various ethnic and racial backgrounds from 10 different countries, as well as the United States. Their findings were published as “We Didn’t Even Think About Adopting Domestically: The Role of Race and Other Factors in Shaping Parents’ Decisions to Adopt Abroad” in Sociological Perspective.

The researchers found that some parents were open to adopting a child of any race, and actively wanted to adopt a non-white child. “The fact that some respondents went abroad to actively seek children of color challenges the assumption that parents simply choose to adopt abroad because they are in search of white children they could not find in the United States,” said lead author Nikki Khanna. However, 18 of the parents revealed they were not open to adopting children of certain races, especially an African-American child, whom they viewed as physically and culturally “too different.”

When questioned further, the most common reasons for not wanting to adopt an African-American child were a fear of racism against the child in the community or in the extended family, or feeling “ill equipped” to teach a black child about African-American culture or how to deal with racism.

Among the motivations to adopt internationally that were not linked to race were the fear that a birth parent could rescind consent; preferring to be matched with a child rather than chosen by an expectant mother; and concern about open contact with birth parents.

At this time, 60 percent of the more than 400,000 children in U.S. foster care are children of color, and 35 percent of those children are black. However, “Given these findings,” says Khanna, “Encouraging American parents to adopt in the United States may prove difficult.” She also sees “implications for broader race relations in the United States, given that parental preferences regarding the race of their adoptees reflect the American racial hierarchy that relegates black/African Americans to the bottom tier.”

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