Caucasian children are five times more likely to be adopted than to stay in long-term foster care, compared to African-American children. The Caucasian rate is 2.5 times better than for Latino children.
Previous research found the Caucasian rate only twice as high as the rate for minorities. This difference means that the number of minority children staying in foster care when they could have been adopted has been greatly underestimated, said Richard Barth, Hutto Patterson Professor of Social Welfare.
The same is true of older children between the ages of three and five, who are five times less likely to be adopted than to stay in foster care compared to infants, Barth found. His research on the effects of age and race on adoption odds is published in the March/April issue of the journal Child Welfare.
Barth believes that, in part, many minority children have remained in foster care because there have not been enough adoptive families of the same ethnic or racial background as the children, and-until recently-state law discouraged transracial adoption.
California's law changed last year with the passage of federal legislation that prohibits the delay or denial of adoption on the basis of race. Barth's research contributed to passage of the new legislation.
The scope of the problem had not been evident before because research had been based on children for whom an agency was actively pursuing an adoption, rather than on all of the children in foster care who would have warranted such efforts.
Barth studied the outcome for all children in foster care, following the fate of 3,873 children who entered long-term care in California between January and June 1988. He found that over six years, most of the minority and older children were not adopted.
"Two decades of effort aimed a locating adoptive parents of the same ethnic background have not brought the chances of adoption for these children to an acceptable level," he said.
Since the 1970s, agencies have discouraged parents who wanted to adopt children of different ethnic or racial backgrounds, but now "times have changed," said Barth.
He explained that President Clinton's "Adoption 2002" program and California Gov. Pete Wilson's "Adoption Initiative" are both designed to examine and change adoption policies to increasing the numbers of children placed.
He added that it is particularly important for interested parents to "make it crystal clear" to public adoption agencies that they are available, because judges have been reluctant to terminate the rights of biological parents when they think the chances of adoption are poor.
Barth emphasized that adoption of African-American children by families of the same race is preferable where such families are available and can meet the child's other unique needs. But evidence also suggests that children adopted across racial lines do well and that remaining in foster care without a permanent family to rely on fails to address the lifetime needs of a child, he said.