Rita J. Simon and Howard Altstein. Adoption Across Borders: Serving the Children in Transracial and Intercountry Adoptions. – book review
Lanhan, MD: Rowan and Littlefield, 2000. Paperback, $18.95; hardcover, $59.00.
“Adoption is a legal process in which a child’s legal rights and duties toward his natural parents, and vice versa, are terminated and similar rights and duties are created with respect to the child’s adoptive parents.” (23) This is the clear-cut definition offered by the authors of this slim volume. Adoption was first legally recognized in the U.S.A. in 1851 by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
While the matter of adoptions basically belongs under state jurisdiction, there are also federal statutes that apply, namely the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act (MEPA) of 1994 and the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. The authors point out that the purpose of both of these acts was “to prohibit the use of race `to delay or deny the placement of a child for adoption or foster care on the basis of race, color, or national origin of the adoptive or foster parent or child involved.'” Further, the Act specifies that “an agency MAY consider the cultural, ethnic, or racial background of the child and the capacity of the prospective foster or adoptive parents to meet the needs of the child of this background as one of the number of factors used to determine the best interest of the child.” (29)
In the 1960s transracial adoptions were practiced and white families adopted 2,274 Black children in 1970. In 1972 the National Association of Black Social Workers declared transracial adoptions “a particular form of genocide.” Thus in 1973 only slightly over a thousand such adoptions went through. Meanwhile over 50,000 legally adoptable children are waiting for homes. The Black Social Workers’ position is supported by some Black political organizations that fear the alienation of Black children. Some Native Americans also term transracial adoptions genocide. (37) Both groups recommend adoptions of their children only be Black or Native American parents, claiming that other parents are unable to teach the children the values of their origin, or to prepare them for life in an “essentially racial society.” (41) The trouble with this argument is that there are not enough non-white parents for non-white children awaiting adoption. In this connection, the authors point out, there are some glimmers of hope: empirical studies showing that some white people have successfully reared emotionally health Black children and that the number of Black prospective parents is growing.
In cases of domestic adoptions a home study of the adoptive parents by a bona fide social service organization is required. Home study is also a requirement in intercountry adoptions with various laws of both countries applying. The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption set a minimum standard for international adoptions. It was signed by 34 countries, including the United States, but ratified only by 30, not yet by the U.S. (at the time of this publication). The hurdle seems to be that the Hague Convention requires a country’s central authority to supervise all adoptions whereas we work through the states.
The authors point out that federal statistics in the U.S. have not been collected since 1975, at which time 129,000 national adoptions were registered, among them 831 transracial ones. The latest figures on intercountry adoptions given in this book are for 1992 at 128,000–the rounded figures indicating that both counts are not exactly precise.
The scope of the book includes the history, frequency, and legal aspects of adoptions in both the realm of transracial and intercountry adoptions. It includes detailed analysis of both of these types and the results of empirical studies conducted by the authors over a span of more than two decades. Special attention is paid to international adoptions from the most frequent nations of origin of the children.
A special chapter is devoted to Jewish adoptions, in particular the experiences of the “Stars of David Families” between 1987 and 1997. This Boston based national adoptive agency of Jewish and mixed families bring up their adoptive children, be they Korean or Chinese, as Jews.
This book fails to cover certain important aspects of the adoption dilemma, like single parent adoption, adoption by gay parents, open adoptions, subsidized adoptions, or the adoptee’s right to know about their birth mothers. For these, the authors suggest, “readers.., will need to look elsewhere.” (x) One aspect of international adoption, which is outside the scope of this study, but should be urgently addressed by and future monograph on the subject is the outrageously exorbitant and unwarranted fees collected by lawyers who play the role of intermediaries.
Books on adoption are rare. Perhaps because November 2000 was National Adoption Month, a few appeared, each devoted to one facet of the subject: Rose Lewis, I Love You Like Crazy Cakes and Carol A. Peacock, Mommy Far, Mommy Near: An Adoption Story, explaining the process to adopted children, and Pulitzer Prize nominee Adam Partman, Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution is Transforming America.
Rita Simon is a sociologist with her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago; Howard Altstein a social worker with the Ph.D. from the University of Illinois. This book is a meritorious contribution to the research of a subject that deserves more attention than it is presently receiving.
Dr. Vera Laska
Department of History
Weston, MA 02493
COPYRIGHT 2001 Pi Gamma Mu
COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group