Transracial Adoption Works, Says Leading Scholar
Contact: Mary Wood
Rita Simon, professor of public affairs at American University and author of more than 50 books, spoke Friday about her influential research showing that most children who are adopted into families of a different race are well-adjusted and content. Simon’s talk was sponsored by the Center for the Study of Race and Law.
In a longitudinal study she ran from 1971 to 1991, the first ever to address this issue, Simon found that children adopted by parents of another race were happy with their families, saw their adoptive parents as their own parents and grew up just as well-adjusted as their non-adopted siblings. In general, the participants had no identity issues as they entered adulthood. Instead of identifying themselves according to race, most found occupation, religion, special talents, and family connections to be much more important markers of who they were as people.
Simon’s conclusions on transracial adoption led her to testify before Congress in support of a law passed in 1996, prohibiting “race, color, or national origin” from being factors in an adoption run by any state or state-subsidized organization.
The overwhelmingly optimistic findings of Simon’s 20-year, 206-family study, which focused on black and Korean children adopted by white parents, were due in large part to the parents efforts to integrate the child’s heritage into family life. This started with discussing race at home, displaying a photograph of Martin Luther King, Jr., or cooking Korean food, and often went as far as joining a black church or moving to an ethnically diverse neighborhood. Simon found that this was the single most important type of adjustment a family could—and should—make.
“Love is not enough,” Simon said. “You can love the adopted child as if he or she was your own, but if you’re adopting across racial lines, you have to make changes. You cannot raise a child as if that child was a white child. Some parents learned that faster than others.”
Sure enough, despite the many efforts parents made, this was still the one area in which most children felt their experience could have improved. On the whole, however, the respondents grew into adults who were quite comfortable with themselves.
Simon had not meant to maintain contact with the respondents for 20 years. But when she published her first set of positive results, the National Association of Black Social Workers vehemently criticized her, expressing the concern that black children growing up in white families may seem fine at a young age but would face many problems in the future.
“They actually referred to it as cultural genocide,” Simon said.
The reaction prompted her to stay in touch with the children and determine whether the concerns were indeed substantiated. As she would later conclude, they were not.
Not only did the black children have no more problems than their white siblings, but the majority openly expressed disagreement with the National Association of Black Social Workers’ position when asked about it as adults. Eighty percent of the participants said they disagreed, most often citing the reason that “racial differences are not crucial.” Much more significant, Simon said, is “having a loving, secure relationship with your family.”
Simon has since expanded her work with these families to include the perspectives of the white siblings and the parents. She is also currently conducting a study on Native American children adopted by white parents.
• Reported by Hannah Woolf