Locating the intersections of disability, race and ethnicity in adoption rates among foster children

Intersecting circles and lines depict the concept of intersectionality

Intersecting circles and lines depict the concept of intersectionality

I’m pleased to announce the publication of a new article with my colleagues, lead author Dr. Lisa Johnson (Salem State University) and Dr. Allyson Livingstone (Brandeis University). We used intersectionality as a framework for the quantitative analysis of adoption outcomes for children in foster care, looking at their racial, ethnic and disability social identities.

The promotion of speedy, permanent adoption outcomes for children in foster care whose parental rights have been terminated is a central child welfare policy goal. However, while both children of color and children with disabilities are at greater risk for child welfare involvement, little is known about influence of these intersecting identities on adoption rates. This cross-sectional, national study draws on the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) to explore the between and within group foster care outcomes of adoption.

While we expected to see advantages in outcomes based on identification with privileged social identities, our findings were much more varied. First, we analyzed adoption rates among children with disabilities by race and ethnicity (among the population of children with disabilities whose parents’ rights had been terminated and who exited care in 2012). Our hypothesis was partially supported, with two groups of children of color experiencing lower rates of adoption, and two groups experiencing equal rates of adoption. American Indian/Alaskan Native youth were equally likely to be adopted, as were Asian/Pacific Islander youth. However, Black/African American youth were 74% less likely to be adopted than White youth. Similarly, Hispanic/Latinx youth were 79% less likely to have been adopted as compared to White youth.

Second, we analyzed adoption rates among children of color with disabilities and White children without disabilities (among the population of children whose parents’ rights had been terminated and who exited care in 2012). In the comparison of adoption rates between children of color with disabilities and White children without disabilities, all groups were equally likely to have been adopted. Third, we analyzed adoption rates among White children with disabilities and White children without disabilities (among the population of children with disabilities whose parents’ rights had been terminated and who exited care in 2012). Our hypothesis was supported as White children with disabilities were two times more likely to have been adopted than White children without disabilities.

Our findings provide context for four important takes on how social identities can formulate different types of privilege and oppression in the adoption process. First, among the population of children with disabilities, American Indian/Alaskan Native and Asian/Pacific Islander children experienced no racial disproportionality when compared with White children. Second, Black/African American and Latinx/Hispanic children with disabilities were much less likely to be adopted than were White children with disabilities. Third, a pattern of equality emerged when we compared children of color with disabilities against White children without disabilities. Fourth, White children with disabilities were two times more likely to be adopted than were White children without disabilities.

Implications relate to the need for the conduct of multi-systemic equity assessment of child welfare systems and practices.

Watch for the full article – coming out next year in Adoption Quarterly.