Muriel McCrea, “The Mix-Match Controversy,” 1967

In this conference presentation, a representative of the Montreal-based Open Door Society described the revolution in thinking about matching that accompanied the era of special needs adoptions. The emphasis on resemblance and similarity was supplanted by an appreciation for children’s needs and adults’ abilities to meet them. This transformed adoption from a selective operation that included promises of predictability and practices such as home studies to a much more inclusive and educational process that required everyone involved to tolerate uncertainty as well as difference. For more information on the research and theory of H. David Kirk, which is mentioned by McCrea, see the description of his classic 1964 book, Shared Fate.

As all of you know here, we were on a matching binge for years and years. The pediatricians assured us that it would be a better adoption for the child and the family if we simulated the normal family in every way. If we had a family who wanted a baby and we got them a baby as young as possible, then this was the best chance there was for a successful adoption. Now research being done at the moment shows that the rate of success in these adoptions is actually not any higher than ones done in any other way.

We came to the point where we began to ask ourselves: what does create success in adoption? We have asked and studied, questioned and compared and we haven’t reached very many conclusions, but I think that what we discovered in Montreal in working with the mixed race adoption program is a basic philosophy for social work which has since been substantiated by Dr. H. David Kirk in Shared Fate. He says adoption is not exactly the same as having a biological family. The success, happiness and security for a child and a family exists in knowing this, accepting it, and not being unsettled by it. In other words, from the newborn baby up to the oldest child, from the perfect match of blue eyes with blue eyes through to the complete mix-match, adoption is still different from giving birth. The most successful adoption is the one in which agency and family are very aware that there will be differences to be faced. They may not know all the answers to dealing with the differences; social workers haven’t got all the answers because we were the happy-ever-after school that placed the baby and then let the adoptive family find out how to work it out. So we haven’t answers, but we know the families that pull through are the ones that live comfortably with difference.

When you talk about mix-match, I don’t think it makes any difference what you’re mix-matching. It’s whether you have a child who needs a home and a family who can accept the difference that goes with him—the fact that he is adopted—that he may be a different color—that he suffers from a handicap they had never expected to work with. Whatever the difference, you find parents who can work with a difference and then the only thing you match is their potential with a child’s need.

We made a chart one time of what bothered adopting parents. Do you know it’s much harder to place cross-eyes than it is epilepsy? The proportion of people that will balk at the cross-eyed child is much higher than that of ones who will balk at epilepsy. It’s just one of these things that is difficult to understand. We had theories that if people have dealt with a disability or had it in their family and have seen it that it wasn’t an overwhelming problem, they are better able to cope with it. But this isn’t true either. Sometimes you’ll have a high proportion of people who’ve had a disability in the family and they say, “Well, I saw what a lot of trouble it was; I don’t want that, but I’ll take something else I don’t know anything about. I’d rather be surprised.”

So you write off having a pattern that you’re sure you can put into your office manual, for instance, the formula that someone will come in and ask for an epileptic because he knows what it means to be an epileptic. As soon as you get it in your manual, he won’t take the epileptic; he’ll take the asthmatic and do beautifully with him. What you’re measuring is not difference in the sense that some differences are good and some are bad. You’re trying to find a universal parent—a person with the potential to accept the fact that this child isn’t going to enter the home the same way as a natural-born child would have done; a person who’s motivated to involve the child, include him, accept him, absorb him totally and completely as if he had come as a natural child; a person who requires no support of background, of appearance, of intellectual potential, no guarantees. This is not applicable just to mix-match. This is a basic sound philosophy of all adoption. . . .

Audience: If you don’t match physically or intellectually, how do you decide what child will go to what family?

McCrea: We gave up matching (simulating is probably a better word to use)—we match need to potential. There’s no problem at all. When your family comes in, you start this educative approach and say: “We have these kinds of children coming through our agency and this is the kind of thing they require.” As you talk to the families, the ones that really want guarantees drop out. . . .

Whey you meet the parents you tell them what you know about the child and they talk to you about what they could work with and what they couldn’t. In the end what you match is what the child needs and what they can do for him. It isn’t just drawing a name and picking a card. It’s giving up the matching (the simulating) of externals and instead matching need to potential, which is what you do in any personnel office, isn’t it, when someone comes into you for work?



Source: Muriel McCrea, “The Mix-Match Controversy," in Frontiers in Adoption: Finding Homes for the “Hard to Place,” A Report on a Conference and Its Impact, October 1967, 61-62, 65.

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To learn more about The Adoption History Project, please contact Ellen Herman
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