Last week a local news organization, The City Pages, published a feature article about a contested adoption case that the Minnesota Supreme Court is reviewing. As with many of these cases, this story highlights systems issues in child welfare, the tension between biological family and foster families, racial differences, interjurisdictional placements between states and the differences in state's proceedures regarding adoption, and much more.
In "Split the baby: Two sides of an adoption battle" reporter Olivia LaVecchia's story delves into many of these issues but the main attraction, as is often the case, revolves around race. The placement of the two young sisters at the center of this story has been presented as one in which the African American paternal grandmother has been denied custody in favor of a white foster family.
Our executive director at the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare, Traci LaLiberte and I met with Ms. LaVecchia to provide background context for adoptions and child welfare practice in Minnesota and a few of Ms. LaLiberte's comments are featured in the article.
Among the issues we brought up include:
- The pendulum swing in child welfare as the profession emphasizes relatives and kin over "new resource" adoptions, a change from the past when many thought that "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree"
- The interjurisdictional mistakes that were made in this case
- The MultiEthnic Placement Act and Interethnic Provisions and how that legislation differs conceptually with the Indian Child Welfare Act
- The difference between "active efforts" and "reasonable efforts"
While both parties in this case are arguing issues regarding race - that the children need to be raised in their cultural community according to the grandmother, over the argument by the foster parents that they are the only parents these children know and that race should not trump the relationship and bond they have with the girls.
This story, as with the baby Veronica case, pits the contested adoptions as matters of race, which often becomes the story and illustrates the very divided opinions people have about race and culture in America. However, what is often not as considered is that these issues are almost always about much more than race alone - they typically involve intense differences in opinions about whether biological families are more entitled to raise children than new resource families; the issues of class is often unspoken but foster families in these legal cases are almost always white and middle class while the relatives are often from communities of color and are working class; and finally in most of these cases one or more significant practices required by law were either not done properly (in the baby Veronica case, for example, the workers did not follow the procedures of ICWA) or they were not done to the effort they should have (such as following through with the state of Mississippi in the case of the Dunnings).
Some things to think about:
- If the relatives, the Dunnings were white, do you think they would have been more likely to receive the children?
- If the Dunnings had lived in Minnesota instead of Mississippi, do you think the case would have been ruled as it was?
- If the foster family, the Grossers, were African American, how do you think this case would have been resolved?
- Can race really be taken out of it, as the attorneys argued before the Supreme Court?