“All you need is love” and “skin color doesn’t make a difference.” We hear these comments all the time in conversations about transracial parenting. While people say these with the best intentions, they can become a barrier to engaging in deeper thinking, self-evaluation, and conversations around the complexities of transracial families. These conversations can have an immeasurable positive impact in relationships within transracial families, as well as in children’s development, identity, and wellbeing.
Transracial foster care and adoption placements are very common1. One of the reasons for this is the racial disproportionality within the system. As of 2017, thirty-three percent of children in foster care were African-American even though they make up only 15 percent of the population2. On a local level, the disparity is even more drastic. While less than 30% of St. Louis City and County’s combined population is black, black children account for more than 70% of our local foster care population3. Although transracial placements are safe and appropriate, children still face challenges such as struggling with feeling different and isolated, developing a positive identity, and experiencing racial discrimination1.
The Foster & Adoptive Care Coalition held the newly created Transracial Parenting training in December 2019. We had a conversation with Connie Chrisman, one of our Family Development Specialists for the Dennis and Judy Jones Family Foundation Foster Care and Adoption Program, who shared about the training goals and its importance to our community.
YC: How did the Transracial Parenting training come about?
CC: We knew we needed this training for a long time, it was even included in the Coalition’s latest strategic plan. The STARS training provides a short overview on the topic but left our families with many unanswered questions and feeling underprepared for the relationship. It became clear to the staff that the transracial parenting conversation needed to move beyond skin care and hair care products (which are important things to know about), to deeper, honest talks about self-identity and racial identity in our society, and how it impacts transracial families. It was imperative for us to expand the existing curriculum to fulfill this need. This training is based on materials and learnings from previous Coalition diversity trainings, conversations with diversity training expert Aaron Layton, as well as seeking out audiovisual resources and using the staff’s lived experiences with transracial parenting.
YC: What are the main goals of this training?
CC: We expanded the curriculum to address two main areas: 1) Open people’s eyes to bias and racism by creating a non-defensive environment to have conversations about topics like white privilege, implicit bias, need for diversity, and cultural awareness. These can be difficult conversations, but provide parents with a space for self-reflection, asking questions, and being vulnerable about the topic. 2) Provide parents with practical knowledge and skills to navigate situations and conversations that they might encounter with family members, communities, or strangers. Inevitably, people will ask questions and make comments that, intentionally or unintentionally, can be confusing or harmful to the identity of our children and the family. No amount of training will fully prepare families for these experiences. However, we hope they will feel more confident when responding in these circumstances.
Through the training we also strive to connect them to community resources available to support transracial families. These include bookstores, theaters, and other organizations that help parents provide their children with an environment that will affirm their racial identity.
YC: What are some the big takeaways for parents?
CC: Colorblindness is sometimes confused with trying to show children unconditional love- but it does the opposite: colorblindness denies a child who they are and who they are meant to be. The truth is that we have never had the lived experience of being of their race, and never will. It is important that as parents we teach our children how race impacts families and themselves, and have long-term competencies to face and fight against discrimination and racism. Our children will grow up and move away from our protection, they need to be as equipped as possible to navigate these challenges.
YC: Any words of wisdom for parents of transracial families?
CC: For parents, it takes self-evaluation and vulnerability to ask for help. Just because we can’t meet all of our children’s cultural needs, it doesn’t mean we don’t know them/love them. One of the ways we show our love is by not becoming complacent parents, and continue to find new and creative ways to meet their needs according to their developmental stage.
Some practical ways transracial families can find support include seeking out events, family groups, and building a diverse group of friends. Most importantly, as parents, we need to become advocates, speak up, and have conversations. This can be done in different ways; not everybody is a public demonstrator, but you can vote for policy and individuals that support diversity and inclusion, educate your friends, and engage in difficult conversations with grace and respect.
1 Fostering Perspectives (November, 2015). Parenting a Child of a Different Race http://fosteringperspectives.org/fpv20n1/Deese.htm
2NCSL (2017). Disproportionality and Disparity in Child Welfare
3Missouri’s Fostering Court Improvement Database
“Colorblindness is sometimes confused with trying to show children unconditional love- but it does the opposite: colorblindness denies a child who they are and who they are meant to be.”