When Minneapolis native Caryn Lantz and her husband, both white, decided to adopt, they were open to adopting any child, regardless of ethnic background. According to NPR, the two were shocked to discover that some babies could be adopted more economically than others. They were faced with an uncomfortable truth of American adoption today: it is far cheaper to adopt a black child than a child of any other race.
For a black child, the process of adoption is quicker as well. A social worker at an adoption agency the Lantzes visited explained to them that this was because they had many black children waiting for families. Adopting a Caucasian, Asian, Latino, or Biracial child would take longer because there were more people willing to adopt them. Lantz says “I remember hearing this and just sort of being dumbfounded that they would sort of segregate — to use a loaded term — segregate these children by ethnic background before they were even in this world.”
Another adoptive parent, Dawn Friedman of the blog "Love Isn't Enough," found that the three adoption agencies she looked at charged full price for children of all races besides black, and around half price for black children. When Friedman explained that she would take whatever baby came her way, she was advised by one agency that “You may as well get the fee break. If you are open to adopting a black baby, you will get a black baby.”
There are reasons why this has happened. A study published by the Centre for Economic Policy Research found that the probability that a non-African American child will have interested potential adoptive parents is at least seven times as high as the probability for an African American child. This preference against black babies turns into differing adoption costs. The rationale is that people are more willing to get over racial preferences if they can adopt for less. Some adoption professionals also say that generally there are fewer non-African American infants available, and more demand for them.
"Obviously, any time … somebody brings up the word discrimination, everybody's going to … draw attention to the issue, whether or not there's an issue there," said Sean Lance, the director of American Adoptions, an agency whose price ranging results in parents paying more to adopt non-African American babies, “It's not set up as discriminatory.”
He says that minority mothers often qualify for financial support like Medicaid, which pays for their expenses while carrying babies and sometimes even the cost of delivery. White mothers often don’t, so those expenses are added to the cost of adopting the baby.
For the Lantz couple the cost to adopt a Caucasian child was approximately $35,000. For a full African American girl, it was about $18,000. Lantz says, "When they told me the fees for the white child, I was in a Babies R Us and I remember having to sit down in the aisle and say to myself, 'I don't think we can afford to adopt this child.'"
Some states and agencies are using a different system: instead of making some babies cheaper or more expensive to adopt, they base prices on the incomes of prospective families so that lower-income families pay less to adopt. Other agencies are trying to move towards a system where all adoptive parents pay an identical fee for all adoptions.
There is much to recommend such a system, although not everyone agrees on its practicality. The Economist opined that “No doubt, the idea of placing a lower value on children based on race or sex is repugnant. But if it results in finding a loving home for children, and sparing them years in foster care, it may be the lesser of two evils.”
A question facing adoptive parents of African American children is what they will tell their children when they are older. Doubtless, it will be painful for these children to hear that the adoption agencies their parents located them through gave them up at a discount.
Caryn Lantz worries: "I am a little nervous about what we're gonna do when he (her son) starts to understand why someone approached us at Target and thanked us for saving babies.”
Dawn Friedman writes: “I have a friend who is also an adoptive mother in a transracial adoption and who also used an agency with a racist fee structure. She says, ‘My child will NEVER know that our adoption cost less because of his skin color!’ Her argument? Knowing will cut to the core of his self-esteem.” Friedman herself will tell her daughter the circumstances of her adoption. As she says: “It is her right. It is her story.”