UC Berkeley press release


Minority kids and children over age two in foster care face high odds in California's adoption system, says UC Berkeley study

by Patricia McBroom

Berkeley-- Opportunities for adoption among minority children and children as young as three living in foster care are much lower than has been known, according to a new analysis at UC Berkeley's School of Social Welfare.

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, the analysis shows.

Previous research had found that the Caucasian rate was only twice as high as the rate for minority children. This difference means that the number of minority children who have stayed in foster care when they could have been adopted has been greatly underestimated by adoption statistics, said Richard Barth, Hutto Patterson Professor of Social Welfare at the University of California at Berkeley.

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 current (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. As a national leader in the field, he now is urging the professional community and the general public to open the doors to adoption for these minority children.

The true scope of the problem had not been evident before because research had been based on children for whom the agency was actively pursuing an adoption, rather than on all of the children in foster care who would have warranted such efforts, said Barth.

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 of 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.

"By searching for the 'ideal' family, we have inadvertently blocked many children from being placed in any adoptive family," he said.

Although, since the 1970s, adoption agencies have discouraged parents who wanted to adopt children of different ethnic or racial backgrounds, now "times have changed," said Barth.

"Now agencies are looking for parents of all ethnicities to step forward and adopt foster children," he said.

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 with the aim of increasing the numbers of children placed.

"But all of this will be for naught if more families cannot be found who are able to provide loving homes for foster children -- especially children who are minority and those who are not infants," said Barth.

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.

In spite of the call for families of all backgrounds to step forward, 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.

"We need parents of all backgrounds. People need not feel constrained in any way about adopting children who are not just like them, as long as they can do what's needed to make a child feel comfortable and loved."

There are approximately 26,000 children who enter California's foster care system each year. About two-thirds go home and many others live with relatives.

Barth estimates that, if government continues to encourage adoption and the public responds, in excess of 5,000 children could be adopted each year. Only about 3,000 are adopted now.

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