What's New in Adoption and Foster Care in 2019

What's New in Adoption and Foster Care

A major overhaul of Georgia’s adoption law went into effect in September 2018. The new law reduces the revocation period for a birth mother’s consent, as well as the Georgia residency requirements. Specifically, the law shortens the time allowed for a birth mother to revoke her consent to the adoption from ten (10) days to four (4) days. In addition, birth mothers are now allowed to seek reimbursement from adoptive parents for basic living expenses in both private and agency adoptions. The new law also eliminates a requirement that individuals in Georgia must be residents for six months prior to adopting. These laws, which had not been updated since 1990, are now more similar to laws in multiple other states.

Family Match is a new website that uses algorithms and compatibility technology to match adoptive parents and foster children. There are nearly a half million children in the U.S. foster system, with a quarter of them freed for adoption without connections to families in waiting. This program, launched in 2018 by Adoption Share, is bringing children and adoptive parents together. Currently, Florida and Virginia participate in the program and Tennessee and Kentucky are expected to come on board soon. We will keep you posted as we make progress on getting New York to follow suit.

Hoosiers are the beneficiary of a new Indiana law that went into effect in 2018. Birth records of adoptees, adopted prior to 1994 are now afforded the same rights as those adopted since 1994, which means they are able to obtain information about their original birth certificates, biological parents and medical histories unless a biological parent has requested the file remain closed. The adoptee must be at least 18 years of age. The new law is estimated to affect more than 40,000 individuals adopted in the state.

Interstate Adoption

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How does one adopt a baby or child from another state? If you are working with a national agency, chances are you will be traveling to another state to meet your birth mother and new baby. A large number of private adoptions also happen across state lines. Whether you are flying across the country, or driving twenty minutes to your neighboring state, you will need to comply with the Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children (ICPC) before you may bring your new baby home.

ICPC is a legal agreement between all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the US Virgin Islands, enacted to ensure that children being adopted across state lines were going to safe and suitable homes. Adoption laws are widely variable from state to state. Because there is no federal law regulating adoption, an ICPC office is set up in each state to review specific paperwork for each non-relative, interstate adoption placement. The state where the birth mother resides is referred to as the “sending state”. The adoptive family’s state of residence is called the “receiving state”. ICPC administrators are tasked with making sure the laws and regulations in both states have been followed before they allow the adoptive parents to travel home with their new baby.

Your lawyer or agency will prepare a packet of documents for the ICPC administrators to review. The process is primarily the same in each state, but because the state laws differ there are occasionally variations in what the ICPC offices require. When you have an out of state adoption plan, you should always prepare to be out of state for at least two weeks once your baby is born. The ICPC process can take less than a week, up to two weeks, or even longer. There are many factors which influence the length of the ICPC process.

Generally, the steps in an across state lines adoption include the following:

1. The adoptive parents will travel to the sending state before, or once, the baby is born.

2. The baby is discharged from the hospital usually into the adoptive parent’s custody.

3. There may be a waiting period before the birth parents are legally allowed to consent to the adoption. A signed consent is mandatory for ICPC.

4. Your attorney, working in conjunction with the birth parent’s attorney, will submit the necessary ICPC paperwork and supporting documents to the sending state’s ICPC office. This paperwork includes the home study, certification as qualified adoptive parents, medical records on the baby, the birth parent’s consent, information on how the adoption plan was conceived and an accounting of fees or expenses paid by the adoptive parents.

5. The sending state approves the ICPC request and sends it to the receiving state, which then conducts a similar review.

6. Occasionally, one of the ICPC administrators will request additional information. For example, if the baby was born with a medical disability, or drugs in his system, ICPC will want to see an affidavit from the adoptive parents that they have been fully informed of the medical health of the child and attendant risks and that they accept the risks.

7. Once the sending state approves the ICPC request, the administrator will contact the adoptive family’s attorney, who then contacts the adoptive parents that they have been cleared to take their new baby home.

ICPC approval means a potential stay out of town with a newborn baby for a week, maybe longer. There are several factors that contribute to the period of time it takes to obtain ICPC approval. In some states, a birth mother must sign her relinquishment of rights in court in order for the consent to the adoption to be valid. In other states, such as New York, the birth mother may sign her consent as soon as the baby is born and while she has 45 days to revoke her consent, the ICPC paperwork may be filed as soon as she signs. It often takes a day or two to obtain medical records from the hospital where the baby was born. ICPC packets may not be filed without a complete set of the baby’s medical information. In addition, it generally takes a day or two for the attorney or adoption agency to complete the file and submit all necessary documents. Of course, there is always the variable in how fully staffed an ICPC office is and whether the baby is born on or around a government holiday or weekend.

Preparation is important! Adoptive parents are wise to find a comfortable extended stay hotel and bring an infant car seat with them when they travel to their baby’s birth state. If you have special medicines or dietary concerns, pack wisely and take what you would need for potentially 2-3 weeks. It is always everyone’s intention to get the new family home as quickly as possible, but it is wise to plan ahead.

LGBTQ Parenting Rights and Second Parent Adoption

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LGBTQ PARENTING RIGHTS

Over the past few months, at least five states have introduced bills or passed laws limiting same-sex adoption across the country. Each with different language, the legislative initiatives allow states and agencies to refuse services to same-sex couples. This discriminatory legal trend not only denies children in the foster care or adoption agencies loving homes if the prospective parents are LGBTQ, but the laws serve as a building blocks to restrict all rights of LGBTQ parents. Given the terrifying political and legislative landscape, now more than ever, same-sex parents need to reach for and secure their parenting rights before the legislators erode them completely. LGBTQ couples can protect their families forever through quick, simple, and inexpensive, second-parent, or step-parent adoption.

The recent legislation is a huge step backwards for LGBTQ families. In March of 2017, the governor of South Dakota signed a bill allowing child placement agencies to discriminate based on “religious belief or moral conviction,” protecting any agency from government retaliation if they choose to discriminate against LGBTQ people. Soon after, Alabama and Texas signed similar legislation allowing adoption and foster care agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples based on “religious beliefs.” The Georgia Senate Judiciary Committee also added a discriminatory section in their adoption bill targeting LGBT people with an amendment that allows agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples and refuse to work with LGBTQ prospective parents if doing so meant going against “their mission.” And, in Tennessee, a bill was enacted that requires the words “husband” and  “wife,” and “mother” and “father” be interpreted by their “natural and ordinary” meanings indirectly restricting the rights of LGBTQ parents and their ability to adopt privately or through the foster care system. 

Second-parent adoption is the adoption of a child by a second parent who may otherwise not be considered a legal parent. In New York, when the parents are married the process is called a step-parent adoption, versus a second parent adoption when they are not married. Regardless of marital status, for same-sex couples building families, this process is an important legal tool. Without second-parent adoption, the partner of the legal parent, even when married, is not a legally recognized parent and has no parental rights. Once a second-parent adoption is finalized in court, the child has two legal guardians and parents with the same parenting rights recognized across state lines. In the event of a divorce, dissolution of a relationship, or death, both parents’ rights and the child’s rights are unequivocal and an indispensable part of family preservation.

Clearly, LGBTQ parenting rights are on the legislative chopping block. With second or step-parent adoption, mothers and fathers are protected from being denied custody, visitation, the ability to make medical decisions, and the joys of being a part of their child’s life without states standing in their way. Quick, simple, and inexpensive, second-parent adoption protects LGBT forever families.

International Adoption and U.S. Citizenship

International adoption, while exciting and remarkable, can bring confusion and uncertainty when it comes to immigration status. It is very important to ensure that your internationally adopted child becomes a U.S. citizen. If adoptive parents postpone obtaining their adopted child’s citizenship, he or she may later have difficulty obtaining driver’s licenses, passports, scholarships, working legally, voting, and enjoying basic citizenry rights and privileges. Worse, adopted children without U.S. citizenship may grow up to be subject to deportation. Safeguarding your child’s future is an imperative.

U.S. CITIZENSHIP - ACQUIRED AUTOMATICALLY

Under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, some, but not all, children adopted abroad automatically acquire U.S. citizenship. If your adopted child entered the United States on an IH-3 or IR-3 visa, U.S. citizenship is automatically acquired if:

  • at least one of the child’s parents is a U.S. citizen;

  • the adopted child entered the United States prior to his or her 18th birthday;

  • the child lives in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent;

  • the child entered the United States as an immigrant for lawful permanent residence, and

  • the adoption is final.

For those IH-3 and IR-3 cases, a Certificate of Citizenship should be received within 45 days of admission without additional forms or fees.

In New York, those children who enter the Unites States on an IH-3 or IR-3 visa can file a Petition for Registration of Foreign Adoption Order in either Family Court or Surrogate’s Court. This allows adoptive parents to get a New York court order that recognizes the foreign adoption and gives parents the ability to obtain a New York birth certificate from the Department of Health. It is also an opportunity to legally change your child’s name and have it registered on his new birth certificate.

If you would like to obtain a New York court order or New York birth certificate for your internationally adopted child, contact your adoption attorney for more information on how to file a Petition for Registration of Foreign Adoption Order.

U.S. CITIZENSHIP - NOT ACQUIRED AUTOMATICALLY

If your adopted child entered the United States with an IH-4 or IR-4 visa, U.S. citizenship is not automatic. Instead, your adopted child automatically receives a permanent resident card (green card).  If your adopted child is a permanent resident (green card holder), you should contact your adoption attorney and begin the process of re-adoption in the Family or Surrogate’s Court. It is very important that your adopted child’s re-adoption is final as soon as possible and, in no uncertain terms, before his or her 18th birthday.  

Your adopted child automatically acquires U.S. citizenship on the date of his or her re-adoption in the United States (if the adoption occurs before the child’s 18th birthday). Once the re-adoption is final, you can file the Form N-600 with the necessary supporting documents and the fee of $1,170 by check or money order made payable to U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and if approved, your adopted child will be issued a Certificate of Citizenship.  

For more information on U.S. Citizenship for an internationally adopted child go to:
https://www.uscis.gov/adoption/bringing-your-internationally-adopted-child-united-states/us-citizenship-adopted-child

*Please note: The above information is not a comprehensive summary of the laws governing adoption or immigration as they relate to international adoption and citizenship. Please contact your adoption attorney or immigration attorney for more information.

Federal Adoption Tax Credit for 2018

WHAT IS THE ADOPTION TAX CREDIT?

Introduced in 1997, the adoption tax credit’s purpose is to make adoption more affordable. As part of the American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012, the adoption tax credit became a permanent law.

The adoption tax credit is available to those who adopt privately, both domestic and international, as well as through an agency, or through foster care. The credit is not available for step-parent adoptions.

Remember, a tax credit is different than a tax deduction—it’s better! A credit is an amount that is subtracted from your tax liability. The adoption tax credit is also NOT A REFUND. The credit is applied against what you owe in taxes to the federal government.

HOW MUCH IS THE ADOPTION TAX CREDIT?

For the year 2018, the maximum allowed for adoption tax credit is $13,810 per child. The credit phases out for families with higher levels of income. Under the 2018 adoption tax credit formula, adopting parents who earn no more than $207,140 are entitled to take the full credit. For adopting parents who earn between $207,140 and $247,140 in income, there is a reduced tax credit, and no tax credit is available for those earning more than $247,140.

WHICH ADOPTION EXPENSES CAN BE CLAIMED?

The adoption credit is offered for “qualified adoption expenses.” Qualified adoption expenses include:

• reasonable and necessary adoption fees;
• court costs and attorney’s fees;
• adoption travel costs (including meals and lodging); and
• other expenses that are directly related to adoption.

Remember, it is important to keep all invoices and receipts for fees and costs as well as court documents and agency agreements related to your adoption. There is no requirement to attach the adoption expense documentation with your tax return. You must, however, keep the documentation as part of your own records as you may be audited by the IRS for authenticity.

Some employers offer an adoption assistance program for adoptive parents. If the adopted child does not have special needs, those expenses paid for by the employer would not be qualified adoption expenses for purposes of the adoption tax credit.

WHAT IF I ADOPT A CHILD WHO HAS SPECIAL NEEDS?

For parents who adopt children with special needs, the full credit of $13,810 may be allowed for the adoption even if you do not have any qualified expenses at all or if you have benefited from your employer’s adoption assistance program.

For purposes of the adoption tax credit, a child has special needs if:

  • the child is a citizen or resident of the United States when the adoption effort began;

  • a state determines that the child cannot or should not be returned to his or her parents’ home; and

  • the state determines that the child probably will not be adoptable without assistance provided to the adoptive family.

In other words, for adoption tax credit purposes, “special needs adoptions” are generally children in foster care and are not necessarily children who have disabilities.

WHEN CAN I CLAIM THE CREDIT?

The tax year you claim the credit depends on when the expenses were paid, whether the adoption is domestic or international, and when the adoption is finalized.

In a domestic adoption, qualified adoption expenses paid before the year the adoption becomes final are allowable as credit for the tax year following the year of payment regardless of whether the adoption is finalized. In an international adoption, qualified adoption expenses paid before and during the year are allowable as a credit for the year the adoption becomes final. Once an adoption is finalized, qualified adoption expenses paid during or after the year of the finalization are allowable as a credit for the year of the payment, regardless of whether the adoption is domestic or international.

It is also very important to note that any credit in excess of your tax liability may be carried forward for up to five years.

HOW DO I CLAIM THE ADOPTION TAX CREDIT?

To claim the credit or exclusion, complete Form 8839, Qualified Adoption Expenses, and attach the form to your Form 1040, U.S. Individual Income Tax Return.

HOW DOES THE ADOPTION TAX CREDIT WORK?

For example, a family does their 2018 federal taxes and finds they owe $5,000 in taxes and is eligible for the full tax credit of $13,810. Therefore, they may apply the credit against their tax liability and pay zero in federal taxes for the year. In addition, they may carry over $8,810 to apply against their tax liability for the next five years.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE ADOPTION TAX CREDIT VISIT: https://www.irs.gov/taxtopics/tc607.html

*Please note: We are not financial advisors or tax preparers. This advice should be considered general guidance only and not professional advice or as a substitute for IRS instructions. Be sure to check with the appropriate tax advisor, or other professional for your specific situation.

*Please also note: This information is relevant to families considering the adoption tax credit for the 2018 tax year. Rules and eligibility have changed over the years and are not documented in this article. 

Financing Your Adoption

Building your family through adoption can be quite expensive. The average private, domestic adoption includes attorney’s fees, social worker fees for home studies, advertising expenses, birth parent counseling fees and maternity expenses. Often there are additional travel costs as well. A domestic adoption ranges in cost from $20,000 - $50,000. International adoption is even more costly. A little research can pay off and substantially reduce your out of pocket costs.  

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Employer Benefits: The first place to look for financial assistance for your adoption plan is your workplace. It is inexpensive and easy for a company to offer adoption benefits as not many employees will take advantage of this option and having it on the books helps a company seem family friendly. The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption maintains an annual list of the top 100 adoption friendly workplaces offering adoption benefits. If you do not see your company on this list, check with the human resources or benefits department where you work and ask if they offer any assistance. If it is a small, non-public company you may have a good chance of being the groundbreaker to prod your employer into instituting such a policy.

Fundraisers: The internet is full of wonderful ideas for fundraising to help afford the cost of adoption. Suggestions range from garage sales to T-shirt fundraising to setting up an adoption crowdfunding page where people can contribute tax deductible donations. Like employer benefits, fundraisers put needed dollars directly in your pocket to get you started or further down the path of adoption.

Grants: Today there are hundreds of available adoption grants with different eligibility requirements. Generally, there are no limits to the number of grants you may seek. Several small grants can add up to substantial fundraising.

Direct adoption grants are given by organizations, which review your application and award the money directly to you. This type of grant requires a little more work on your part and they are definitely more competitive, but the reward can be quick and substantial. See, for example, HelpUsAdopt.org, a national not for profit association awarding adoption grants twice a year regardless of race, ethnicity, marital status, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or disability. 

Some organizations pay the grant to your adoption service provider, such as your attorney or agency, rather than directly to you. An example of this type of grant comes from The Buescher Foundation, established in 2014 to provide support and resources to adoptive families. This foundation awards grants in varying amounts for domestic private and/or agency adoption. There is no income requirement and there are no marital status or religious affiliation restrictions. The Foundation requires a home study and a “look book” or profile book that tells the story of your family. Their grants are awarded at the end of each quarter and funds may be used for all qualified adoption expenses and will be sent directly to your service providers.

You will find that some adoption grants are predicated on certain qualifications, such as demonstrable financial need, a particular religious affiliation, marital status, or that the adoptive child be special needs or orphaned. All grants require you go through an application process. Please carefully read the following time saving tips before you begin the process of applying for an adoption grant. 

Four Important Guidelines When Applying For An Adoption Grant:

1.  Read the grant criteria and eligibility requirements – do not waste your time with  applications for which you have no chance of being approved. If you are single and the organization only awards grants to married couples, do not expect to be the exception to the rule!

2.  Make sure your home study is complete. Most grants require an approved home study. Most grants have deadlines. Be sure not to start the process with an extensive application only to be disqualified when you do not have a home study to submit prior to the grant application deadline.

3.  Share your story and be AUTHENTIC. Your honesty will resonate with the folks reading your application and help them relate to you and your journey.

4.  Answer every question and send in all the required documentation. In other words, check and double check that you have followed the instructions. If you miss a question or fail to send in all the documentation, your application will be thrown out, no matter how long you spent on the questions you did answer.  

Other ideas to try:  

    o    Some airlines and hotels offer adoption discounts for adoption related travel. 
    o    Try your local banks for low interest loans once you are home study approved and court certified to adopt. 
    o    Discuss the Federal Adoption Tax Credit with your accountant or a tax professional. You may be entitled to a tax credit of more than $13,000 for qualified adoption expenses, including attorney’s fees and travel costs. 
    o    Military adoption reimbursements are available for service members up to $2,000 per adoptive child, per calendar year.

Recent Updates in Adoption Law

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The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) of 1978 was struck down this month, as unconstitutional, by a federal judge in Texas. ICWA is a federal law that pertains to every domestic adoption, private and foster. The law was enacted in response to a practice of removing Native American children from their families and placing them in non-Native American homes. At that time, intentional separation of native children from their families, culture and language was thought to be in their best interests and many agencies were proponents of their assimilation with white families. ICWA was enacted to protect and strengthen Native American parental rights. When a child was removed, state courts were mandated to institute placement preferences starting with a child’s extended family members, then other members of the child’s tribe, and finally by members of other Native American tribes.

Judge Reed O’Connor determined that ICWA discriminates against non-Native American adoptive families by giving preference based on race, in all domestic adoption proceedings, thereby violating the Fifth Amendment’s equal protection under the law guarantee. The judge also ruled that the law violates the Tenth Amendment’s federalism guarantees, specifically the anti-commandeering principle, which was established by the Supreme Court in a 2018 sports gambling case. Specifically, the judge found that ICWA unconstitutionally mandated that state courts implement a policy dictated by the federal government. Pennsylvania and California have used this same argument to block the Trump administration from cracking down on sanctuary cities. In short, Congress cannot command states to modify their laws.

ICWA was passed to correct an unfair and disproportionate pattern of removal of Native American children. In the late 1970’s, data showed approximately 25 to 30 of Native American children were removed from their homes by non-tribal public and private agencies and placed outside the tribes for adoption. The children were losing touch with their families and their culture. This ruling has stunned Native American rights advocates. Fears are that Native American children are far more likely to be removed from their families than nonnative children and this ruling, if upheld, may jeopardize decades of legal precedent affecting tribal sovereignty. Additionally, there is concern that this will have a chilling effect on all Indian law. This is the first time that a federal statute enacted to benefit Indians has been found unconstitutional on the grounds of equal protection. ICWA does not impose an all out bar on non–Native American families from adopting or fostering Native American children, but it requires they show “good cause” that the child cannot or should not be adopted by other Native Americans.

The judge ruled that ICWA was not “narrowly tailored” enough because any Native American family would be given preference over a nonnative family as adoptive parents, even if the child did not belong to the same tribe. The judge also objected to the fact that even children who were not officially members of a tribe, but whose biological parents were members, would still qualify for ICWA. The judge called these children “potential Indian children”.

As an ICWA declaration is required in every domestic adoption in the United States, private and foster/public, this ruling has thrown a measure of uncertainty into the formula for children with Native American ancestry, the ability of their birth parents to select adoptive parents and those wishing to adopt.

How to Choose Your Adoption Attorney

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Whether adopting privately, or through an agency, all New York courts require a lawyer to represent adoptive parents at finalization. Choosing your adoption attorney is an important decision and one that should be made with careful thought. Here is a short list of tips to consider when deciding which attorney you will choose to guide you through your adoption journey. 

1. Choose an attorney that specializes in adoption. The practice of family law does not always include experience in adoption. When interviewing attorneys, ask how many years they have been in practice and confirm that they have significant experience in adoption law. Your uncle, the real estate attorney, may be a terrific guy but do not ask him to handle your adoption!

2. Be sure your adoption attorney is licensed in your state. Adoption laws differ significantly from state to state across the country. If the birth mother of your adoptive child resides in a different state, your attorney should be prepared to help find a lawyer for the birth parent and be comfortable considering which state’s laws best suit you to govern the adoption. 

3. Hire an attorney who works with a social worker. Whether your attorney is a solo practitioner, or works for a larger firm, it is important that they have a social worker to rely on for home studies and counseling. Adoption is a very special and sometimes emotionally challenging process. Work with an attorney who can recommend an experienced adoption social worker to provide you with additional support from the beginning of the home study through post placement and finalization day.

4. Ask for recommendations. Adoption is a personal process filled with life changing decisions. Be sure to talk to family, friends, and people you trust who have been through the adoption process and can give feedback about their attorney. Hearing personal stories about relationships with adoption attorneys can better inform you when choosing the right fit for your family. Don’t be afraid to ask your attorney for references.

5. Discuss lawyer’s fees prior to deciding whom to retain. Some adoption attorneys work at an hourly rate while others charge a flat fee. Be sure to ask questions about fall through fees, time limits of the representation, and any other costs that may arise. Adoptions, whether through an agency or a private attorney, can be expensive with lawyer’s fees, birth mother expenses, birth mother attorney’s fees, and travel costs. Budget concerns should be taken into account early in the process.

6. Look at the attorney’s website. Be sure to read the lawyer’s website to find out more about their practice. Does the lawyer represent birth mothers too? Does the website reflect sensitivity to issues birth mothers face? 

7. Ask about the attorney’s policy for returning phone calls and emails. Some attorneys work 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. Others are available seven days a week. It is important to have a realistic expectation of how quickly your attorney will respond to your questions. Knowing how your attorney works will better prepare you during your journey.

8. Interview multiple attorneys. By meeting with several lawyers, you will be able to compare and contrast different working styles. A good personality fit, a strong rapport, and a connection you can trust during the process is paramount! 

9. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Whether related to fees, time frame estimates, how many adoptions the attorney has finalized, or whether a prior criminal arrest will pose a problem—every question is important at every step in the adoption process. You should feel comfortable asking your attorney for guidance, information, and support.

10. Find out what services the attorney provides. Are there separate fees for the pre-certification process? Does the attorney guide clients through profile creation and advertising strategies? Many agencies charge a separate fee if an adoption plan fails. Does your attorney charge such a fee? Be sure to have a clear understanding of what your attorney’s services include to avoid surprises.

Survivor Benefits and Your Adopted Children

Social Security provides support to families of workers who pass away. Widows, widowers, children, and other dependents may be entitled to survivor benefits. When a widow or widower remarries, the question is raised, “Will my children lose their survivor benefits if my new spouse adopts them?” The answer is simple. Children who are later adopted by their living parent’s new spouse do not lose their survivor benefits. As long as children were already entitled, adoption does not terminate their survivor benefits.

For more information about child’s benefits termination and entitlement, please visit the Social Security Administration website or call 1-800-772-1213.

Survivor Benefits and Your Adopted Children

Parenting A Multi-Racial Family

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Today’s world of multi-cultural, bi-racial, trans-national and blended families creates new challenges in parenting. As a white mother of two white sons, I do not pretend to have first hand knowledge of the special issues that arise when parenting a child of different racial and cultural heritage. To help me understand the issues and the conflicts multiracial families face, I have listened to and read the work of many experts and absorbed the personal stories shared by my clients. Their insights and suggestions have been thoughtful and eye opening. The following is my attempt to share some of their wisdom. I hope it can be helpful to all of us. 

Talk, communicate, discuss and talk some more! Talking about race, as a white person, is often challenging for lack of experience and fear of getting it wrong. However, there is no such thing as being “color blind”. Pretending racism does not exist in our world is unhealthy for your child and potentially dangerous. When a child is very young, their focus is centered on their family. Your child may express that he wishes he looked more like you. This is a wonderful opportunity to let him know you validate who he is and  that you would not want to change one thing about him! Celebrating one’s differences does not just mean celebrating the cultural aspects of a different ethnicity. You may want to educate yourselves on the ways your child’s ethnicity, race and culture developed differently from yours. This is a perfect time to dig into your ancestry and when, how and why your family came to America, as well as your child’s ethnic ancestry. Share your ancestry with your children. Very few of us had ancestors on the Mayflower!

As they age, children live more in the world and race begins to matter. Children learn about colors in pre-school and they know we are not all the same color. Particularly in school, children become aware of their differences on a daily basis, whether it be the shape of their eyes, skin color, hair style, even religion. It is critical for all parents to learn to talk about race. All of our identities are valuable and should be honored, not swept under a rug by pretending we are the same. Racism exists and if a parent leads the way in recognizing it and addressing it, the child will know their home and family is a safe space, where they can talk about the tough stuff. As children get older and experience racism in the outside world, it is healthy for them to be able to bring these issues home and express themselves freely in their family. If they cannot come home with their troubles, they are in danger of internalizing and absorbing the racism as personal. The lesson I heard over and over was “do not wait until your children are old enough” to talk about race.

Does your home reflect your and your children’s race? The art, books, children’s movies, media such as television should reflect all members of the family throughout your home. Does the family in your daughter’s dollhouse look like your family? Multi-racial books and toys, artwork throughout the house, not just in the child’s room, affirms for your child that the whole family cares about race and it is not just important to her. Is your child isolated in a white community? Introduce role models who share the same racial background as your child. It is not enough to expose your children to famous actors or sports figures of the same race. Role models can be friends, teachers, doctors, coaches, clergy and others who have a real role in your child’s life and with whom they can connect in a real way. 

Remember children like to fit in. Hairstyles often bring up issues in trans-racial adoption. Are you imposing generational or white prejudices on what is “good” or “bad” hair or what style looks pretty? Style is important to children of all ages. Your child may want her hair to reflect what she sees in her world, on TV, at school, or in her community. At the same time, parents should keep in mind that some style choices may not be the most practical. While braids and beads might not fit comfortably under an ice hockey helmet, they might be the best style if your child is on the swim team. Parenting professionals say the key is to remain child focused with this issue. Children should feel proud of how they look, how they perceive they fit in and of who they are.

How does a parent help his child cope with prejudice? It is critical for your child to learn to trust that you are open to discussing these issues. Respect for ourselves and for others starts at home. It is far safer and healthier for your child to talk openly with you about how to deal with ignorance and racism, than for her to feel she is alone and that no one in her family would understand if she encounters it in her outside world. Find supportive friends or family members, especially other parents, to help you manage issues that you have never had to consider. Trans-racial families face unique issues at all stages of child development. During every step of the journey, families should share a commitment to having open communication, listening and forever honoring and celebrating our differences. 

There are numerous, wonderful resources you can find on these issues. We would like to share and recommend the following wonderful resources: Multiracialsky.com, Inside Transracial Adoption by Gail Steinberg & Beth Hall and What Do I Say Now by Carol Bick and M.C. Baker.