Interracial Adoption: The View from Western Canada

There are an endless number of paths that bring potential parents to the decision of adopting a child to become a part of their lives and create the cherished dynamic of a family.   However, adoption brings with it several complex layers of responsibility and awareness, than the classic manner of becoming parents.  Ultimately most of these responsibilities come down to fostering a positive family environment so that an adopted child can develop a healthy identity. When the adopted child is of African or Caribbean decent and the parents are white, there are far-reaching implications and ethical considerations to be taken into account. Generally it is the personal sense of responsibility of the potential adoptive parents to take on the process of exploring and researching the ethical questions around completing an interracial adoption.

In British Colombia, provincial laws around adoption, any adoption, require that an educational component take place prior to the adoption process moving forward.  Other provinces also have similar components, but in the area of exploring transracial parenting and cross cultural adoptions, resources in British Colombia are more developed than many found in other areas of the country. According to the Sunrise Adoption Agency, licensing for adoption agencies in BC include the capacity to complete adoptions from all countries in the world, which is not the norm in other provinces. So international adoptions take place more frequently on the west coast.
The Adoptive Families Association of British Colombia (AFABC) is a valuable resource when it comes to being able to provide a good foundation in an educational start for parents considering cross racial adoptions.  There are regular workshops, which touch on subjects such as culture, heritage, family issues and medical matters specific to race. There is a space for networking with similar families and opportunities to hear firsthand accounts from families further along in the cross cultural adoption process and from older children who have been adopted.   Another two part workshop offered, Building Transracial Parenting Skills, delves deeper into the more crucial issues including:  motivations to adopt transracial, being your child’s ally, stereotypes, positive racial identity, dealing with racism, school issues and more.  These workshops alone, will not ensure that an African child being raised in a white North American family will be free of emotional strains and identity challenges, but at the very least, these workshops can label the issues that will come up for such families.

Over the last eighteen years ago, the Afro-Canadian Adoption Network (ACAN) has developed and has grown into a resource, which made this struggle for identity a less arduous one for black children adopted into white families.   At that time, four or five families came together due to their common interest of wanting to adopt children of African heritage. The adoptions were facilitated by the Open Door Adoption Agency in the state of Georgia.  For this adoption agency, it was the first time they had heard of Canadian families being interested in wanting to adopt African –American children. When they sent a representative up to meet these families, a backyard party to facilitate this meeting turned into the birth of a network of families who realized the need to work together in order to meet the needs of the black children they wanted to adopt and to be successful parents for these children.  Over the years, followed a wealth of activities and resources were put in place. As this network grew, a hundreds of kids were adopted through this agency from other countries such as Haiti.

These adoptions predated the BC legislation that mandates the required educational component so ACAN took it upon themselves to do their own learning.  They consulted a diversity expert and a child psychologist in order to deepen their understanding and to develop a curriculum, which would be eventually used in the organized which brought together as many Afrocentric vendors in the area of hair and beauty previously mentioned workshops. On the social end of the spectrum a yearly festival was products, decor, clothing, music, dance, drumming and more that could be found.  A family camp with youth and adult mentors for the young adopted children was organized and currently there is a local boys and girls club with a similar model that the children and families can access year round.  ACAN is deeply embedded and often works closely in collaboration with the services available through AFABC.

Yet, despite all of these wonderful resources being available, at the core of this issue lays motivation.  What would motivate white people to what to adopt children from different cultures and races?  Adopting a native child brings with it a different responsibility, from adopting a Chinese child, which differs from adopting a Russian child, and is quite a different experience from adopting a child of African or Caribbean decent. The history of North America includes problematic patterns of the dominant culture’s treatment of different cultures or races. The residual effects and continued racist practices which exist in our society will have direct impacts on interracial families and more specifically the children.  According to the Adoption Council of Canada stats for 2006 BC international adoptions, the United States came in 2nd as a source country, Ethiopia came in 3rd place and Haiti was in 5thplace.

The Canadian Race Relations Foundation defines racism using the following definition:  A mix of prejudice and power leading to domination and exploitation of one group (the dominant or majority group) over another (the non-dominant, minority or racialized group). It asserts that the one group is supreme and superior while the other is inferior. Racism is any individual action, or institutional practice backed by institutional power, which subordinates people because of their colour or ethnicity. Adoptive parents should be willing and able to acknowledge racism’s legacy and how this will impact on a family unit that is comprised of white parents, in a role of power and authority over a non-white child. The very dynamic of these interracial families reflects the power imbalances and exploitative aspects that allow for racism to be perpetuated.  To fight against racism manifesting within the family itself is the constant responsibility of the adoptive parents.  As the conscious creators of an interracial family they must be consistently aware and be willing to implement interactions, family practices and approaches that work to fight against racism.

It is the parents own choice, needs and desire to choose a child of a different race or culture to be a part of their family.  This places an automatic lifetime of grappling with a clash of racial or cultural identities for the child as they grow.  It is a huge duty to lie at the feet of the beautiful little baby with the huge dark eyes that look to the only parents they know for protection and guidance.

NOTE: The enormous ethical question of should domestic interracial adoptions, or even more crucial, international adoption of children from African or Caribbean countries continue to be options for white parents is not explored here. These questions and others related to racial identity are looked into at



Dorla Tune

Dorla Tune is a consultant and writer at D.Scribe Writing and Consulting

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