When Transracial Families Are Accused of Kidnapping

Transracial families don’t "match" which can draw looks, questions, and accusations. Because adoption is something that touches many people in different ways (a survey done in 1997 found 58% knew someone personally who was adopted, has adopted a child, or is a birth parent), most of the time the questions are well intention even if occasionally offensive. The number of transracial families in the United States is growing; while some of this is due to transracial adoption and/or international adoption, transracial families in general are becoming more common. Adoptive families need to be prepared to manage racist comments and racism.

In Adoption Preparation Education classes, we also talk about how transracial adoptive families can be perceived. A mother and a child or a father and a child may receive different treatment from other people than when both parents are with the child, creating a more understandable family unit in which adoption seems to be most likely. Unfortunately, this can become more complicated for grandparents who do not "match" their grandchildren where the larger age gap can be confusing to onlookers.

I have heard several stories about well-meaning citizens calling the police or CPS on adoptive families based on any number of concerns. While it may be frightening and an inconvenience, I would rather someone called if they thought there was any reason to be concerned about my child or any child. Yet, I was pretty shocked to read about police officers surrounding and questioning a grandfather who was walking home with his (biological) granddaughter. There are several comments there, but I found the comments on AdoptionTalk to be more interesting when this story was shared there last week. Another story that might be interesting is this story of a white girl adopted by a black family.

When I read about the story in Austin, I forwarded it to my father and started thinking about what we could do to avoid such an incident which is traumatic for the children and the grandparents. Like some of the commenters at AdoptionTalk, his first plan was to make sure to always carry a family picture. Smart phones make it easy for us to always have several family photos to help prove relationship. Children do not usually carry identification, although there are several websites that will create an ID card for your child. For most children adopted internationally, however, they come home with a photo ID in the form of their passport. Photo copies of a passport can be made for the child or grandparent or caregiver to carry. In case the child’s last name and the grandparent or caregiver’s last names do not match, it may be helpful to write the names of approved caregivers on the back along with the parents signature; even better would be to include a copy of the parent’s photo ID on the back as well.

While many adoptive parents get upset about having to prove parentage when visiting a pediatrician or other medical professional, when you – and especially when your children – are being questioned by the police, it is more important to to get everyone calm and on the same page than it is to educate about adoption and discrimination. Have you ever had to defend your relationship to a child? What identification and documents do you carry with you on a regular basis? Do you carry more documentation when traveling than you do on a daily basis?