For over 20 years, federal law has made it illegal to determine a foster child’s placement on the basis of race. Last week a Newsweek article focused a national spotlight on the family courts in Guilford County, North Carolina, for doing just that.
Naomi Schaeffer Riley, who wrote No Way To Treat A Child; and Sarah Font, associate professor at Penn State, tell the story of a three-year-old boy in North Carolina whose placement was determined by skin color. With the stroke of a judge’s pen, “T,” a pseudonym for the child, will likely become one more black child lost in endless foster care, when he could have been adopted into a lasting, loving family.
Since the time T was a few days old, he was cared for by licensed foster care parents Scott and Ginger Rhoads. His biological mother had a history of maltreatment, and when she failed to visit him for over a year, she fulfilled the state’s requirement for abandonment. Still, the state tried for over two years to reunify him with his mother. Once the DSS attorney and the guardian ad litem moved to an adoption plan, the Rhoads family stood ready to welcome him permanently into their family, the only one he had ever known.
Then the accusations began. Mrs. Rhoads, a licensed cosmetologist, asked to trim the child’s hair. She was criticized for being culturally insensitive. The guardian ad litem accused them of giving him an “uppity” nickname. She also testified in court that T should be in a home with people who “understood his plight” as a “black male in America.” Foster parents are not allowed to refute accusations brought up against them in court.
In short, the same family the state deemed worthy to provide almost two and a half years of care for T was not allowed to adopt him because he had a different skin color than theirs. With just 24 hours notice, Guilford County DHHS removed T and placed him in the foster home of a black single woman he had never met.
North Carolina has nearly a 14% gap between white and Hispanic children who are reunited with family, or adopted, compared to black children in our state. Family courts are choosing indefinite, race-based foster care for black children, denying many of them their best chance to be part of a safe, loving, and lasting home. Foster-care families complain that they are “placeholders” until the state can find a race match. And foster-care children like T suffer broken attachment bonds that often affect them for life.
How has racism invaded North Carolina family courts with impunity? North Carolina is one of nine states that are county run, which in some cases has allowed activist judges, GALs, and social workers to work together to flaunt the federal law that prohibits race-matching.
The impetus behind race-matching is the underlying bias that only black parents can raise a black child. Trans-racial adoption is framed as an instrument of oppression, especially among social workers and lawyers. The research available, though, shows similar outcomes for children, whether adopted in or outside their race. Adoption has long been the clear, preferable choice over rotating foster-care homes.
Here’s one place where every party concerned with vulnerable children in North Carolina agrees: use all available resources to find blood relatives quickly who are willing to foster and adopt a child in need. But don’t surface two years later an aunt in Minneapolis who might give it a try. If the state of North Carolina wants to care for at-risk children intelligently, we must work to get them in a family they can count on in a timely manner — regardless of skin color.