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Race and Ethnicity
in Child Welfare

Below are NACAC's two position statements related to race and ethnic background in child welfare, as well as links to key articles on this topic:

Race and Ethnicity in Child Welfare


It has long been recognized that children of racial and ethnic minority populations are disproportionately represented in the child welfare system in the United States and Canada. What is less clear are the causes of this disproportionality. NACAC believes that it is the responsibility of all professionals in the child welfare system to scrutinize their practices to better understand how they may contribute to this disproportionality. NACAC acknowledges that profiling of minority communities often leads to differential reporting of children of color to the child welfare system. Mandatory training is needed for workers on reporting as well as to gain knowledge and understanding about diverse cultures. Moreover, emphasis must be placed on getting services, funding, as well as parent advocates and peer mentors for birth parents whose children are at risk of removal or who are in the system. African American, Native American, and Aboriginal children are not only disproportionately represented in the foster care system, but enter earlier and remain longer than other children. We must take action to remedy inappropriate representation of minority children within the child welfare system.

Practice and Policy Recommendations

Children are denied permanent families because people of color face systemic and individual discrimination in the child welfare system. Research shows and NACAC believes that race matters and impacts policy and practice decision making in child welfare. We do not live in a color blind society. The placement of children with a family of like ethnic or racial background is preferable because these families have historically demonstrated the ability to equip children with skills and strengths to combat the ill effects of racism.

NACAC believes that every child should be placed with a family who recognizes preservation of the child’s ethnic and cultural heritage as an inherent right. Therefore, education regarding ethnic and cultural heritage must be a local and federal priority. We encourage agencies and parent groups to offer training and support to foster and adoptive families. This will ensure that children have ongoing opportunities to develop an understanding and appreciation of their racial and cultural identity.

NACAC recognizes that the MEPA and IEPA require that public and private agencies not delay or deny the placement of any child for adoption or into foster care on the basis of race, color, or national origin of the child or adoptive or foster parent. NACAC also recognizes that MEPA and IEPA require public and private agencies not to delay or deny to any person the opportunity to become an adoptive or foster parent on the basis of race, color, or national origin of the prospective parent or child.

Recruitment of Families of Color

NACAC believes that child welfare agencies should work to eliminate racial and ethnic discrimination and bias in adoption recruitment, selection, and placement procedures. Active and creative efforts are needed to recruit parents of every race and culture for children needing foster and adoptive parents. NACAC urges public and private agencies to provide for diligent and continuous recruitment of potential foster, adoptive, guardianship, and kinship families who reflect the ethnic and racial diversity of children in the community for whom permanent homes are needed. These recruitment efforts should be documented, which will include measurable outcomes including increased numbers of permanent families of color.

Specialized minority recruitment efforts have been documented which successfully demonstrate that minority families exist for minority children, and which facilitate minority placement. NACAC encourages agencies to hire minority staff, provide specialized counseling, utilize parent support groups, assist with obtaining subsidies, provide information and community resources, and implement public awareness and recruitment campaigns. NACAC is committed to the creative expansion of such methods, which include but are not limited to: utilization of minority adoptive families as recruitment specialists, specialized minority counseling and referral services, mobile community service units, and adoption fairs.

NACAC strongly urges states to comply with, and the federal government to enforce, the Multi-ethnic Placement Act provision that requires recruitment in communities that reflect the racial and ethnic background of children in care.

NACAC believes that community-based (i.e. churches, advocacy groups, and other organizations reflective of populations of color) minority and specialty foster care and adoption agencies offer excellent opportunities for recruiting families who reflect the racial and ethnic background of children in care. States and counties should partner with existing agencies and help develop additional programs to support the recruitment of families of color.

Diversity and Cultural Competence

NACAC urges agencies to undertake adequate training for adoption workers to enhance their knowledge of identity, cultural, and ethnic issues in working with African American, Latino, Aboriginal, and Native American children and families. In addition, NACAC believes that adoption organizations and agencies should actively recruit African American, Latino, Aboriginal, and Native American social workers. Foster care and adoption agency staff should receive training to: a) partner with communities of color to assess strengths of potential foster and adoptive families; b) identify barriers which prevent families from successfully adopting; and c) better understand MEPA guidelines for diligent recruitment.

Support of Transracially Adopted Children and Families

Children’s opinions should be taken into consideration in deciding whether transracial placements are in their best interest. If a transracial placement occurs, agencies should be required to provide additional support to preserve children’s racial and cultural connections. 

Families who do adopt children of ethnic backgrounds different from their own must recognize and understand that the ethnic and cultural heritage of the child is an essential right. The agency should help the family explore the realities of race and racism using resources which include multi-ethnic families and the minority community. It is important for families to consider seeking services and personal contacts in the community that will support the child’s ethnicity. NACAC also urges agencies to aid in the development of post-adoption support services for transracial families.

When transracial or multi-ethnic placements are made, full appreciation and consideration should be given to the child’s need for close identification and interaction with his/her culture of origin. Appropriate family assessment tools should be used when considering all adoptive placements.

Families who adopt transracially should have access to ongoing support services to ensure that children of color have an opportunity to develop a complete understanding of their racial and cultural identity.  

Native and Aboriginal Children in Foster Care, Guardianship, and Adoption


NACAC recognizes that children and youth of Native American tribes, First Nations bands, and recognized aboriginal communities have an inherent right to continued and positive contact with their tribe or band. Such contact is in the child’s best interest.

All child protection and child welfare decisions should be made by officials of tribes, bands, or recognized aboriginal communities. In the rare cases when this is not possible, decisions must be made consistent with the cultural norms of the tribe or First Nations related to child rearing. NACAC strongly believes that all native children and youth deserve culturally competent permanency options.

Policy and Practice Recommendation

Federal, state, and provincial laws should be adopted that are consistent with the principles stated above.

NACAC encourages tribes and bands and other governmental (state, provincial, federal) organizations to collaborate to achieve children’s best interests. State, provincial, and federal governments should provide indigenous governments and organizations with adequate and sustained resources to ensure that indigenous children and their families receive equivalent benefits under laws impacting their safety, permanence, and well-being in Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

Articles & Publications

Links to Other Organizations



North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC)
970 Raymond Avenue, Suite 106
St. Paul, MN 55114
phone: 651-644-3036
fax: 651-644-9848