Things to Consider When Adopting Transracially

Transracial Adoption

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A transracial adoption occurs when a family adopts a child of a different race than their own. For instance, when Caucasian parents adopt an Alaska Native child, or when Black parents adopt an Asian child.

As with all types of adoption, there can be beautiful aspects to how these families are formed, come together, and learn and grow with each other. But there can also be ethical complications and important considerations for parents to keep in mind.

How Transracial Adoptions Happen

Some families go into adoption with the specific goal of adopting a child of a different race. This happens specifically with families who are looking into foreign adoptions (which can also have their own set of complications to consider).

Other families are simply interested in adopting, and are open to taking any child who may be placed with them, regardless of race.

Most foster and adoption agencies recognize the complications that can arise with transracial adoptions, as well as the benefits to a child being raised in a home with others who share their racial and ethnic background.

In the case of the Indian and Child Welfare Act (ICWA), there are even laws and regulations that require prioritizing the placement of Native children with Native families whenever possible.

Unfortunately, there aren’t always enough adoptive homes with specific racial representations to match the number of children in foster care or available for adoption. And when it comes to private adoptions, sometimes a first family intentionally chooses to place a child with an adoptive family of a different racial background for reasons all their own.

The one thing most experts agree on is that while there are solid reasons to prioritize placements with families who match a child’s racial or ethnic background, the ultimate goal should always be placing children in safe and happy homes, regardless of race.

While families formed through transracial adoption may face additional challenges, there is no reason they can’t thrive with some additional education and a commitment to nurturing the child’s whole self.

Potential Concerns

It wasn’t all that long ago that the pervasive theory surrounding teaching kids about race was to raise them to be colorblind.

Transracial adoptions of previous decades often took place with that theory in mind, with parents and experts alike assuming that a child being of a different race than their parents didn’t have to be an issue unless the parents made it one.

After all, in a colorblind world, why should race matter?

We now know how faulty that line of thinking is. Not only because it is impossible to be truly colorblind in a multi-racial world, but also because racial minorities don’t have the ability to simply ignore their own racial differences. They face discrimination and unique experiences because of those differences that other racial groups may be able to empathize with but will never be able to fully understand.

It has been argued that children of minority backgrounds can only truly learn about the challenges they may have to face from those who share their racial identity.

Adopted Children May Feel Isolated

Children raised in homes where their racial identity does not match that of the rest of their family can also grow up feeling very different and alone from those they are otherwise supposed to rely on. This can be especially true in certain geographical locations where there is an overall lack of diversity and children aren’t able to form healthy connections with anyone who looks like them.

Beyond that, racial minorities have rich and valuable histories they are more likely to learn about and celebrate when raised in homes with those who share their racial identity. A colorblind narrative asks them to ignore those backgrounds, rather than embracing and celebrating the history and culture from which they come.

Different Personal Care Needs

Children of different racial identities may also have very different personal care needs compared to the families that are raising them. Black children often need specific and dedicated haircare that most Caucasian families are probably not familiar with, for instance.

Failure to help them with protective styles can result in damaged hair and unnecessary discomfort.

Privilege In the Adoption System

Finally, the history of transracial adoption has found that it is most often Caucasian parents adopting outside their race, which can raise questions and concerns about flawed cultural systems that make it harder for racial minorities to keep and raise their own children, while allowing families of privilege to benefit (by means of being able to adopt those children) in the process.

Positive Aspects

None of this is meant to discourage families from adopting transracially. But the potentially negative impacts are points families should consider.

That said, there are also positives to be found in racially diverse families. Especially those who take the time to learn about and expose their children to their racial identity.

Celebrating Diversity

One such positive can be the overall focus on diversity, where a family commits to fully celebrating their child’s racial background and to forming concrete, healthy relationships with friends and family who may share that background.

Having a diverse home environment can result in children who grow up embracing diversity in all aspects of their lives—something we should all be striving for when it comes to raising our kids.

Families who commit to helping their transracially adopted child cope with and confront some of the identity issues that may arise through transracial adoption are further helping their children to develop and maintain healthy coping skills overall. This can serve children well as they grow and face other challenges in their lives.

Transracial adoptions can also mean children who might not otherwise have been adopted are able to find forever homes—a benefit that simply cannot be ignored.

Preparing Your Family For Transracial Adoption

If you have decided to move forward with a transracial adoption, the best thing you can do for your future child is to work on educating yourself now.

Gather Resources

Read books and stories written by adult transracial adoptees (such as In Their Voices: Black Americans on Transracial Adoption).

The U.S Department of Health and Human Services has compiled a list of resources that share the perspectives of children raised in racially diverse families. And you may want to look into the wealth of research that explores the potential challenges families formed through transracial adoption might face.

Not all of these accounts will be easy to digest, but by exposing yourself to the good, the bad, and the ugly of transracial adoption, you can better prepare yourself to help your child through any challenges they may face.

Consider Relocating to a More Diverse Area

From there, it is important to take a hard look at your local community. Will your child be the only one of their racial background where you live? If so, you may want to seriously consider moving to an area where that will not be the case.

While moving may seem extreme to some, don’t underestimate the challenges a child can face when they are the only person they know who looks like them.

A Word From Verywell

Successful transracial adoptions result from families willing to educate themselves and capable of recognizing they may not be able to be everything to their children—those children will likely need to connect with others who share their racial background.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and in the case of transracial adoption, that may be especially true.

10 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Indian Child Welfare Association. About ICWA.

  2. Institute for Family Studies. The changing face of adoption in the United States. August 8, 2017.

  3. Lee RM. The transracial adoption paradox: history, research, and counseling implications of cultural socializationCouns Psychol. 2003;31(6):711-744. doi:10.1177/0011000003258087

  4. Boutte GS, Lopez-Robertson J, Powers-Costello E. Moving beyond colorblindness in early childhood classrooms. Early Childhood Educ J. 2011;39(5):335-342.

  5. Child Welfare Information Gateway. Transracial and transcultural adoption.

  6. Mariner KA. White parents, black care: entanglements of race and kinship in American transracial adoptionAmerican Anthropologist. 2019;121(4):845-856. doi:10.1111/aman.13312

  7. Nelson LR, Colaner CW. Becoming a transracial family: communicatively negotiating divergent identities in families formed through transracial adoption. J Fam Commun. 2018;18(1):51-67. doi:10.1080/15267431.2017.1396987

  8. AdoptUSkids. Seven suggestions for a successful transracial adoption.

  9. Hamilton ER, Samek DR, Keyes M, McGue MK, Iacono WG. Identity development in a transracial environment: racial/ethnic minority adoptees in MinnesotaAdopt Q. 2015;18(3):217-233. doi:10.1080/10926755.2015.1013593

By Leah Campbell
Leah Campbell is a full-time parenting and health writer and has written extensively on the topics of infertility, adoption, and parenting. She is a single mom by choice and author of the book "Single Infertile Female."