Cultural Competence in International Adoption Taylor Birman
The Affected Population:In the last 14 years, Americans have adoptedover 233,934 children from different countries.The majority of these children are from China, Ethiopia, and Russia, although they have been adopted from dozens of different countries.One average, 17,955 international adoptionshave occurred each year since 1999. (ABC News, 2013)
Although adoptionrates have been indecline for the lastdecade, the factthat thousands ofchildren are beingadoptedinternationallyeach year stillremains.
International adoptions account for the majority oftransracial adoptions that occur in the U.S. everyyear.•A transracial adoption is when parents and children of different racial backgroundsare joined together in adoptive families. (National Resource Center for Foster Care and PermanencyPlanning, [NRCFCPP], 2002) *About 14% of all adoptions in the U.S. are considered transracial. (Vonk, 2001)
After placement, many challenges are faced byparents and children in transracial adoptions,specifically those in international adoptions. * Not only do internationally adopted children have to adjust to a new family, but they have to adjust to a new culture. This means they have to grow accustomed to new foods, smells, tastes, sounds, sights, sleeping schedules, eating schedules, etc. (USDHHS, 2012) AND…*Not only do parents need to adjust to caring for the physical needs of theiradopted children, but they need to learn how to be culturally competentand able to promote a positive ethnic identity for their child. (USDHHS, 2012)
What is the Issue at Hand? *As international adoptees grow up, they are at an increased risk of facing ethnic identity crises. This can have great, negative effects on the psychological health of both parents and children. Children of international, transracial adoptions face a greater crisis when compared to children adopted by parents of the same race. This is because transracially adopted children face “double rejection”- rejection from their birth mother and rejection from their race and culture (Steinberg & Hall, 2000).
“Identity is a concept of our age thatshould be used very carefully. Alltypes of identities, ethnic, national,religious, sexual or whatever else, canbecome your prison after a while. Theidentity that you stand up for canenslave you and close you to the restof the world.”- Murathan Mungan, Turkish Author
Why is this a problem? Studies have found that perceived discrimination and ambivalence toward one’s ethnic identity can lead to: 1) behavioral problems 2) emotional distress 3) low self-esteem- Negative ethnic and racial experiences can have major consequences for transracial adoptees(Cedarbald et. al, 1999).- Race and discrimination may be the leading factors in social maladjustment and psychiatricproblems among transracially adopted children (Hjern et. al, 2002).
Current Child Welfare System Realities: After any adoption, post-adoption services are in effect to help parents adjust to caring for their new child.*Under certain conditions, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles parents totwelve weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave after the adoption of a child (U.S. Departmentof Labor, 2012).*General support groups and counseling are available to parents (U.S. Department of Healthand Human Services, 2012).*Camps and social events are available for children (CWIG, 2012).However, the child welfare system is lacking widespreadcultural competence services for international adoptiveparents.
Currently, there is a 3-day video-based training curriculum to develop cultural competence in foster and adoptive parents. This was developed by the National Resource Center for Adoption, and it seeks to do several things: 1. Define culture and cultural competence 2. Assess how the participants’ cultural background affects their behavior 3. Discuss a framework for engaging a culturally diverse community 4. Provide training on the Indian Child Welfare Act, the Multiethnic Placement Act and Interethnic Act, and the Adoption and Safe Families Act 5. Provide training sessions on African American culture and Hispanic/Latino culture, and on Asian/Pacific American culture and Native American culture. (USDHHS, 2000)Although beneficial, this program does not target adoptivefamilies of children of all races. It is limited in that only AfricanAmerican, Hispanic/Latino, Asian/Pacific American and NativeAmerican cultures are addressed.
What can be done about this?Adoption agencies can help parents promote a positive ethnic identity for theirinternationally-adopted children by creating programs and support groups thatequip parents with healthy: attitudes skills and knowledge. (Vonk, 2001)
AttitudesAn attitude of awareness needs to be cultivated.- Adoptive parents, especially caregivers, need to be aware of the “whitebenefits” that permeate the American society. This will make it possible tounderstand the disadvantages that children of color face.- There needs to be an awareness of the roles that raceand ethnicity play in the lives of others, along with theimportance of a positive racial identity.- Open communication in regards to racial issuesshould be encouraged in the home.- It is helpful for parents to be able to identify racialbiases in the media – television, books, and othersources – and talk about how they will respond toracism or unwanted attention that they may face as atransracial family. . - Parents need to examine their own attitudes and stereotypes about their child’s race and birth culture. (NRCFPP, 2002).
SkillsTo help their children develop positive racial identities, parentsneeds to be equipped with specific skills .. -Active promotion of the adopted child’s culture is linked to more positive racial/ethnic identity development, and therefore better psychological adjustment. (Lee, 2008). -Making a concerted effort to teach children about their birth culture and heritage is essential. (Carstens & Julia, 2000). -Parents’ active promotion of their child’s race also leads to positive outcomes. (DeBerry et al., 1996). - Parents need to be active listeners to their children and proactive in antiracist activities. (NRCFCPP, 2002).
KnowledgeKnowledge is necessary for an accurate understanding ofinternationally-adopted children in transracial families.. - The culture and history of their adopted child’s country of origin needs to be understood by parents. (NRCFCPP, 2002).- Parents should teach their child and encourage them to learn about their birthculture. (NRCFCPP, 2002).- Parents need to have knowledge about their children’s needs in order to helpthem develop pride in their racial identity. (NRCFCPP, 2002).
In Conclusion*With thousands of international adoptions occurring annually in the U.S., there areover 200,000 children living in families with parents of a different race.*Unique challenges are faced by international adoptees who often struggle to finda positive ethnic identity.*Current cultural competence services for adoptive parents are lacking in that theyonly address a select group of cultures and don’t fully equip parents with the skillsnecessary for being parents of international adoptees.*Adoption agencies need to create longer-term programs and parental supportgroups that train parents with the proper attitudes, skills, and knowledge to helpshape a positive ethnic identity for their internationally-adopted child.
References…And for more Information:ABC News (2013). International adoption rates plummet in U.S. Around the World with ChristinaAmanpour. Retrieved from http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/around-the-world-abcnews/internationaladoption-rates-plummet-u-124106055.html.Carstens C., Julia M. (2000). Ethnoracial awareness in intercountry adoption: U.S. experiences. International Social Work. 43(1), 61–73.Cederblad M., Hook B., Irhammar M., & Mercke A. (1999). Mental health in international adoptees asteenagers and young adults: An epidemiological study. Journal of Child Psychology & Psychiatry & AlliedDisciplines. 40:1239–1248.DeBerry, K.M., Scarr ,S., Weinberg, R. (1996). Family racial socialization and ecological competence:Longitudinal assessments of African-American transracial adoptees. Child Development. 67,2375–2399.Hjern A., Lindblad F., & Vinnerljung B. (2002). Suicide, psychiatric illness, and social maladjustment inintercountry adoptees in Sweden: A cohort study. The Lancet. 360, 443–448.Lee, R. (2008). The transracial adoption paradox. Counseling Psychology, 31(6), 711-44. doi:10.1177/0011000003258087
National Resource Center for Foster Care and Permanency Planning (2002). Information packet: domestictransracial adoption.Osborne, M. (2008). Adoption 2008: The future of international adoption. Rainbow Kids. Retrieved fromhttp://www.rainbowkids.com/ArticleDetails.aspx?id=549Steinberg, G., & Hall, B. (2000). Inside transracial adoption. Indianapolis: Perspectives Press.U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (2000). Culturalcompetence for foster and adoptive parents: Trainer’s guide. Child Welfare Information Gateway.Retrieved from http://library.childwelfare.gov/cwig/ws/library/docs/gateway/Record?r pp=10&upp=0&m=1&w=+NATIVE%28%27an%3D%27%27cd-43693%27%27%27%29&r=1U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families (2012).Finding and using postadoption services: Factsheet for families. Child Welfare Information Gateway. Retrievedfrom https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/f_postadoption.cfmU.S. Department of Labor (2012). Family and Medical Leave Act. Wage and Hour Division. Retrieved fromhttp://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/.U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs (2012). Intercountry adoption statistics. Retrieved fromhttp://adoption.state.gov/about_us/statistics.php.Vonk, M. E. (2001). Cultural competence for transracial adoptive parents. Social Work, 46(3), 246-55.