Child Welfare Ideas from the Experts, #11: Increase Adoption of African-American Males

Lindsey Harrington

The Chronicle of Social Change is highlighting each of the policy recommendations made this summer by the participants of the Foster Youth Internship Program (FYI), a group of 12 former foster youths who completed congressional internships.

The program is overseen each summer by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute, with support from the Sara Start Fund.

Each of the FYI participants crafted a carefully researched policy recommendation during their time in Washington. Today, we highlight the recommendation of Lindsey Harrington, 21, a student at Gordon College in Massachusetts.

The Proposal

Harrington proposes three ways to increase the adoption of African-American males:

Research: Greater requirements on states when it comes to reporting “the intersection of race, gender and age” in the child welfare system.

Enforcement: Enforce federal mandates on states in regard to the recruitment of minority adoptive parents.

Recruitment: Fund a public service announcement campaign aimed at increasing the pool of adoptive parents interested in African-American males.

The Argument

Research shows that a youth who ages out of foster care into adulthood is at high risk of experiencing the worst social outcomes ( homelessness, jail, or both) and face unique challenges in the pursuit of good social outcomes (college graduation and employment, for example). And African-American males in foster care find themselves on the aging-out path at a rate that surpasses any other demographic.

The total number of youth in foster care plummeted during the 2000s, and the number of African-American males dropped also. But the consequences for those in care worsened: the percentage who aged out of care nearly doubled from 7 percent in 2001 to 13 percent in 2010.

Harrington suggests there is a shortage of demand among adoptive parents for African-American males, and that the best way to address this is to increase the pool of African-American adoptive parents. Forty-three percent of African-American adults reported they would distinctly prefer to adopt African-American children over other races, according to the Dave Thomas Foundation. Just 1 percent of whites and 8 percent of Hispanic adults surveyed expressed such a preference.

States are already supposed to have plans in place for recruitment of minority adoptive parents, per the Inter-Ethnic Placement Act of 1994. Harrington explains that the act mandates the “development of recruitment plans by states for foster and adoptive families that are reflective of the child’s ethnic and racial diversity.”

But as of 2008, fewer than half the states — 21 out of 50, according to a 2007 Government Accountability Office report — had sufficiently recruited minority adoptive families.

In Her Own Words

“As a biracial child growing up in foster care, the impact of race was apparent to me even at an early age. …Race may be a social construct, but it impacts our daily lives, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. My background has enabled me to empathize not only with issues pertaining to race, but also with the desire to be wanted by a family. African-American males in the U.S. foster care system need lawmakers to stand up for them, come alongside them and do an overall better job of taking care of them.”

The Chronicle’s Take

Better data is sort of an inarguable point to us. To the extent that it’s possible to collect information on the kids systems are taking from their parents, it should be done, and the federal government has a lead role there.

But it seems to us that a study is needed on the supply side. Why are there not more African-American adoptive parents? Harrington identifies one clear barrier: states are supposed to actively recruit them and more than half are failing to do so. But we’d be interested in a study that asked African-American families what concerns they might have about the adoption process and adoption in general.

A survey or study along those lines seems like a logical first step in crafting a good PSA campaign to increase the pool of African-American adoptive parents. Harrington astutely hones in on a potential source for this venture: the My Brother’s Keeper initiative, a concept conceived by President Obama and now mostly fueled by philanthropic dollars and leadership.

The GAO study that Harrington cites mentions the following potential solution to disproportionality at the back end of child welfare:

“Using subsidized guardianship as an alternative to adoption may hold particular promise for reducing disproportionality, and more than half of the states surveyed (30) reported using this strategy. African Americans are more likely than white children to be placed with relatives for foster care, and relative foster care is generally longer term.”

It would be interesting to see if the data has supported the GAO’s notion, especially since the federal government has been matching state funds for subsidized guardianship since 2009.

Click here to read Harrington’s entire proposal and those of her fellow FYI participants.

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John Kelly, Editor in Chief, The Chronicle of Social Change
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change. Reach him at