- The Washington Times - Monday, October 30, 2006

Madonna’s taking a lot of heat for adopting an African child shortly after Angelina Jolie did the same. But I’m confident neither kid is going to mind. Every child deserves a home, even the home of a millionaire entertainment icon.

That’s the irony of this controversy. No one questions the enormous need to help the world’s starving and neglected children. Madonna and her husband, director Guy Ritchie, decided to adopt David Banda, a toddler from Malawi, who they found struggling heroically to stay alive in an orphanage after surviving malaria and tuberculosis. His mother died shortly after his birth and his father, Yohane Banda, lacked the means to care for him. No parent, me least of all, can deny that everyone makes some mistakes at the highly tricky task of parenting. There’s no reason to believe that Madonna, despite her flamboyant “Material Girl” stage image, is any less capable of raising David than she has been in raising her other two children. Give her and Guy a chance.

Defending herself on Oprah Winfrey’s show, Madonna lamented that the backlash might discourage others from attempting similar adoptions. That’s doubtful, since few people are as easy to hate as Madonna is. Not that she’s done anything to the rest of us, except to flout conventions, but that’s bad enough as far as many of us more conventionally-minded people are concerned.

Besides, Madonna, Miss Jolie and their menfolk remind us that thousands of children around the world still live in orphanages, on city streets or along the dusty highways of the underdeveloped world. That’s an uncomfortable thought, and none of us likes to be made uncomfortable, even when we should be.

Still, a reader raises a good question: “Why do Hollywood stars have to go all the way over to Africa to adopt black babies? Don’t we have enough adoptable black babies here in America?”

Sure. More than enough. Unfortunately, the question of black adoptions in this country has been complicated over the years by a variety of controversies, especially when the adoptions cross racial lines.

In 1972, the National Association of Black Social Workers took a strong and widely publicized stand against the placement of black children in white homes “for any reason.” Leaders of the organization argued that temporary foster and even institutional placements were preferable to adoption by white families for black children’s healthy development.

That’s simply wrong, as most sweeping statements about child-rearing tend to be. As many successful multiracial families, including some in my own neighborhood, have shown, parenting is complicated anyway. Race tends to be more of a concern in early adolescence, the pitfall-prone identity-formation phase of our lives, but everything is a concern in early adolescence. Like any other aspect of parenting, you handle it with love, patience and a firm, well-applied “no” here and there.

Fortunately, the organization’s position, posted on their Web site, has softened. They recommend that transracial adoptions be conducted only as a last resort after adoptions by other family members or, at least, within the same race are not possible.

In the meantime, black adoptions by black parents actually have increased through a few specialized black-run services like Homes for Black Children in Detroit. In the 1980s, Father George Clements started the first One Church, One Child program in Chicago, rallying black congregations to take on the mission.

In a telephone interview, Toni Oliver, director of ROOTS Adoption Services in Atlanta, and a long-time adviser to the black social workers, cited studies that showed another problem. Low-income black children tend to be put into foster care more quickly and to remain there longer than children of other races but comparable income and home situations, she said.

Thousands of low-income kids, for example, find themselves stuck in foster care for years while their mothers try to kick drug habits, get out of prison or straighten out other problems in their lives that have broken their families apart. Waiting for a resolution, years can go by, the children get older and they become less desirable for adoption because of their ages.

A big problem, Ms. Oliver notes, is publicity. But, as I remember covering Father Clements’ success in the ‘80s, strong outreach efforts can pay off with an increase in successful adoptions by black parents and others. Adoption policy, like parenting itself, is complicated. Public and private officials need to reexamine America’s adoption picture and remove barriers. Besides, there aren’t enough Hollywood stars to do the job alone.

Clarence Page is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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