Funded by WK Kellogg Foundation and Evan B Donaldson Adoption Institute, 2009-2011
This report was researched and written by Hollee McGinnis, Policy & Operations Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute; Susan Livingston Smith, Program & Project Director of the Institute, Dr. Scott D. Ryan, a Senior Research Fellow of the Institute and Dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Arlington; and Dr. Jeanne A. Howard, Policy &
Research Director of the Institute. It was edited by Adam Pertman, Executive Director of theInstitute. We are deeply grateful to the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for providing the funding to launch this study. Also, special thanks to the scholars and adoption professionals who reviewed this paper and provided guidance; they included Dr.Harold Grotevant, Senior Research Fellow
of the Institute and the Rudd Family Foundation Chair in Psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; Dr. Ruth McRoy, Senior Research Fellow of the Institute and the GSSW Donahue and DiFelice Endowed Professor in the Graduate School of Social Work at Boston College; Dr. Tom Crea, Assistant Professor in the Graduate School of Social Work at Boston College; and Dr. Amanda Baden, Associate Professor of Psychology at Montclair StateUniversity.
Executive Summary – Excerpt
I realized I never could change my ethnicity/race. I also developed a pride in being Korean and Asian. I reviewed things I liked about being Asian that European Americans did not have. I also grew comfortable with things I did not like about being Asian. As an adult I learned how to deal with racism/stereotypes in a way that makes me feel OK about being a “border person” and a minority (Study respondent).
Transracial adoption is a reality of contemporary American life. Since 1971, parents in this country have adopted nearly a half-million children from other countries, the vast majority of them from orphanages throughout Asia, South America and, most recently, Africa. Additional tens of thousands of multiracial families have been formed during this period with boys and girls adopted from foster care, with the rate of such adoptions from the domestic system growing from 10.8 percent in Fiscal Year 1995, when there were about 20,000 total adoptions, to 15 percent in 2001, when there were over 50,000.
In the vast majority of these cases – domestic and international – children of color have been adopted by Caucasian parents.1
The consequences of this historic phenomenon have been profound, both for the tens of millions of Americans into whose families these children have been adopted, as well as for a society in which our understanding of what a family looks like is being altered every day. Yet we know very little about the impact of this change – most pointedly about its effects on the Asian, Hispanic
and African American boys and girls at the core of it. How do they develop a sense of racial identity when raised by White parents, most often in predominately White communities? How do they incorporate an understanding of both being adopted and of having parents who are of a different race or ethnicity than themselves? How do they learn to cope with racism and stereotyping? What experiences are beneficial to them in developing a positive sense of self?
This ground-breaking study by the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute constitutes the broadest, most extensive examination to date of identity development in adopted adults. It does so not only by reviewing decades of research but also, most importantly, by asking the experts – adult adoptees – about the experiences and strategies that promote positive identity development. Too often, our understanding of identity, particularly of those adopted across race/ethnicity, has been formed through research involving children and youth. Similarly, conclusions about identity in transracial adoption too often have come from the perspective of parents, not adoptees themselves. The Institute’s study focuses on adult adopted persons, gaining their understanding of how they have integrated “being adopted” and their race/ethnicity with other aspects of themselves that, together, form an identity.