Gov. William Donald Schaefer recently announced that in an attempt to curb the rate of abortion, he was going to seek funds supporting programs aimed at helping pregnant women go full term and then place their infants up for adoption. There is some evidence to suggest that the governor's policies will work. If they are successful, our already strained foster care system will witness an increase in the numbers of children placed in their charge -- unless Maryland's adoption agencies alter some of their exclusionary criteria.
Aside from the emotionalism surrounding "pro-life" versus "right to chose," adoption in the United States is a problem of social class and to a large extent always has been (the rich adopting the children of the poor). It is estimated that there are about 2 million Americans who want to adopt. The number of children available for adoption is estimated at somewhere between 36,000 and 100,000. Of this number, about 40 percent are black. There are only about 20,000 healthy infant adoptions per year. It is to the latter 20,000 "most desirable" that the childless 2 million focus much of their domestic attention.
If child placement agencies continue to view racial similarity between adoptive family and child as a predictor of success in adoption, then in order not to exacerbate an already strained foster care system -- where the largest number of these children would end up should they not be adopted -- there must be a substantial increase in the number of minority families willing to adopt these children.
Is that realistic to expect? If history is any predictor, regrettably the answer appears to be no. As it is, 1986 figures indicate that not only do minority children wait longer than whites to be adopted, they are also less likely ever to be adopted. Other than a successful all-out campaign to attract minorities willing to adopt (which undoubtedly is the best solution), one way to begin equalizing the proportion of adoptable children to childless couples is to reconsider increasing the number of crossracial adoptions. However, despite 15 years of evidence indicating no known long-term negative effects of this type of permanent child placement, it has become such a socio-political "hot potato" that few, if any, adoption agencies will place a child across racial lines.
Should these agencies continue to practice racial matching in determining the quality of a placement, well-intended state and federal legislation to reduce abortions and thereby increase the numbers of children available for adoption will serve only to deepen the foster care crisis by sentencing countless additional children to the painful limbo of foster care. HOWARD ALTSTEIN Professor, School of Social Work and Community Planning The University of Maryland Baltimore