The Los Angeles
Bureau of Adoptions, founded in 1949, actively recruited African-American
and Mexican adoptive parents, believing that matching
was as important for minority as for white children. This large
public agency also began experimenting with transracial
adoptions during the 1950s. In this excerpt, Ethel Branham described
that program. She clarified that the most sensitive (but not most
numerous) cases involved “Negro” children requested
by white couples, reported that her agency gradually moved toward
greater acceptance of these adoptions, and presented their demographic
characteristics in some detail. Although the long-term outcomes
of transracial adoptions were unknown at the time, Branham agreed
with well-known psychoanalyst Judd Marmor that “non-ethnocentric”
couples and families had distinct advantages when it came to transracial
family-making. Its own outcome
study showed that the black children it had placed with white
parents were adjusting well, but the Los Angeles agency acknowledged
that transracial adoptions
were, at best, only a partial solution for African-American and
mixed-race children. In 1966, the Bureau became the first agency
in the country to openly recruit single
parents. The effort was designed largely to find permanent adoptive
homes for African-American
The Los Angeles County Bureau of Adoptions’
experience in transracial placements substantiates the conclusion
reached by Dr. Marmor that “non-ethnocentric families”
are the ones which have the added ingredient that makes a “good
family” better. The white family that can accept and love
a Negro child is more inner-directed and emotionally independent,
and for this reason, is considered, by our agency, as one of our
best families. . . .
The Bureau of Adoptions has had considerable experience in transracial
placements—at least a decade—which may be surprising,
when one considers that we have not yet reached our fifteenth birthday. . . .
Prior to April, 1952, when Walter A. Heath became the Director
of the Bureau of Adoptions, we had made very few transracial placements.
Eleven Mexican-American and six American Indian children has [sic]
been placed with Anglo families. Since 1953, we have not counted
these types of adoptions as transracial; however, technically, they
could be so considered. Neither have we included Oriental-Caucasian
child placed with an Oriental family, in spite of the fact that,
generally speaking, Orientals were not tolerant of non-Oriental
mixtures. We made our first such placement in 1956, the next in
1957, and it was two more years before the third placement could
be effected. However, in this area also, the pattern is changing.
The Bureau’s willingness to participate in this meeting comes
from its experience in having made over 204 transracial placements.
It should be remembered that this figure excludes the Mexican-American
and American Indian children placed after 1953. The 204 placements
does [sic] include: Twelve non-Caucasian but not Negro children
placed with white families; 118 children—at least one-half
Oriental, Malayan, Polynesian, or East Indian—who were also
given new white parents; 17 other racially mixed children placed
with couples who had married across racial lines, and who accepted
children with an additional racial component; 4 non-Negro children
placed with Negro families; 2 part-Negro children placed with couples
who married across racial lines, but non-Negro; and 34 Negro children
placed with 28 white families. These latter 34 placements we wish
to consider today, in relation to Dr. Marmor’s paper.
The Bureau realizes that this is not a large number of placements.
However, it does represent a growing maturity on the Bureau’s
part. We have had other families which might have been used for
some of the Negro children, but we have used them for other children
who were also waiting for homes. The Bureau’s attitude has
changed. We no longer think that a white family who specifically
ask for a part Negro child is neurotic and, for this reason, deny
their request. Now we take a more selective position of attracting
these non-ethnocentric couples. . . .
The 28 families who accepted Negro children have the characteristics
Dr. Marmor has described as “encompassing non ethnocentricity”.
For the most part, their level of maturity has been high, as has
been their capacity for frustration tolerance. However, this capacity
for frustration, in several of the placements did not need to be
tested in terms of the child’s racial difference, because
the Negro strain was not discernible.
A close look at these families reveals a high level of intelligence;
16 fathers are college graduates; five of these have Doctorate degrees,
and three Masters’ degrees. In addition, 9 have had from one
to three years of college training, while only 3 have not graduated
from high school. One mother is a Master of Arts; 6 others are college
graduates, and 11 more have some college training; only 2 have not
completed high school.
The occupations, for the most part involve working with people
rather than things. They are, for example, college professors, teachers,
managers, supervisors, foremen, businessmen, entertainers and a
writer. The women, at the time of placement and post placement,
Interestingly enough, to substantiate Dr. Marmor’s theory
regarding relatively non-authoritarian attitudes toward religion,
eleven families were Jewish, and 8 were either Unitarian or non-denominational,
6 were Catholic, and the rest non-authoritarian Protestant.
There were 8 families which could not be considered as “room
for one more”. These families had resolved their feelings
around infertility and, in addition, felt that adoption was acceptance
of difference, even though an adopted child might be of their own
ethnic origin. The room-for-one-more families included those with
from 2 to 6 natural children. Out of 10 one-child families, there
was just one natural child.
Four of the families, three of whom had natural children, were
foster parents for the Negro children before adopting them. . . .
These 28 families certainly are not the ones Dr. Marmor describes
as being of marginal eligibility; that is, falling within the group
of families that agencies at one time would not accept. Those were
the days when we had arbitrary policies around age, citizenship,
number of children, etc., in order to screen families out, rather
The workers’ need to thoroughly face and resolve their own
inter-racial ambivalence and unconscious prejudices was borne out
by the fact that one adoption worker made 27.27% of these transracial
placements; the next highest was 9.09%. The majority of the adoption
workers have not developed the capacity or courage to operate in
this controversial area, even though they may have developed skills
in other types of transracial placements.
Since 1950, the Bureau has placed 1150 Negro children. Although
this may sound like a very impressive number, we presently need
to plan for 225 additional children, with no diminution expected
in the future. . . .
At this point in the Bureau of Adoptions’ history, we desperately
need to evaluate the pros and cons of these transracial adoptions. . . .
The findings presented today are relevant to current and future
concerns of those in the field of adoption. Every community, every
agency, may not be ready to enter into this relatively untested
dimension of transracial placements. Those who feel, the test of
the pie is in the tasting, will need to wait many years before these
adoptions can be thoroughly evaluated. Others who are keenly sensitive
to the barometric changes toward “equality for all”
in the broader social area, will muster up the courage to plan creatively
for all children who need adoptive placement. . . .