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Church leader wants all states to adopt nondiscriminatory adoption rules

For most anti-abortion rights groups, there should only be one legal alternative to an unwanted pregnancy: putting the baby up for adoption. In the latest abortion wars, Planned Parenthood has been excoriated for providing more abortions than adoption referrals — 324,008 abortions vs. 81,492 adoption referrals in 2008, according to the most recent Planned Parenthood of America Fact Sheet (PDF). During this legislative session especially, the health care/abortion provider has been repeatedly demonized as a financially motivated abortion machine and a perpetrator of African-American genocide — played out in rhetoric, billboards and legislation.

But for Washington-based pastor Kenneth Hutcherson (who says he is not a supporter of abortion), the virtuous alternative to abortion is itself mired in racism and rooted in historical sentiments of the slave trade, particularly the sense of value when it comes to buying and selling African-American babies.

About 10 years ago, Hutcherson, a pastor at the Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, Wash., spearheaded a movement to curb the practice of race-based adoption-fee disparities in his state after encountering several couples who had been presented a difference of $25,000 in rates for adopting white versus black babies. Hutcherson’s church raised money for a billboard campaign plastering images of black and white babies tagged with disparate prices around the state. The yearlong campaign culminated in legislation sponsored by nine state senators, with Sen. Dan Swecker (R-20th District) as lead sponsor. In 2006, Washington adopted the following statute:

An adoption shall not be delayed or denied on the basis of the race, color, or national origin of the adoptive parent or the child involved. However, when the department or an agency considers whether a placement option is in a child’s best interests, the department or agency may consider the cultural, ethnic, or racial background of the child and the capacity of prospective adoptive parents to meet the needs of a child of this background.

However, what was left out of the final statute that was proposed in the original Senate bill — and what Hutcherson ultimately wanted — was the stipulation: “nor shall any adoption related fees be based upon the race or physical characteristics of the child, nor of the ability of the prospective adoptive parents to pay the adoption-related fees.”

The new law did create a “standardized training to be provided to all department employees involved in the placement of a child to assure compliance with Title IV of the civil rights act of 1964 and the multiethnic placement act of 1994,” but again omitted language directing specific focus on adoption-related fees.

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/Antioch-Adoptions-Billboards-003-300x102.jpgFrom the Antioch Bible Church's billboard campaign (image courtesy of the Antioch Bible Church).

It’s a fee war he’s still fighting. Around the time the state legislation passed, Antioch Bible Church founded its own adoption agency, based on the principle of no fees (outside of required fees, such as court costs and care for the infant and birth mother). It’s a system Hutcherson advocates for on a national level.

“Whites are being discriminated against,” Hutcherson told The American Independent, the explanation being that white children are often priced at significantly higher rates than other races, largely due to shortage of white newborns available for adoption.

But his concern is really on value.

“With that price, [white children] are seen as the cream of the crop,” Hutcherson said. “There’s a reason why that white child is that high and why [people] will pay it. Either way you look at it it’s bad.”

According to Adoptive Families magazine, the average rate to adopt a child domestically ranges between $15,000 and $25,000. Depending on where prospective parents choose to adopt a child — through a nonprofit organization, a for-profit, or through a state’s foster care system — fees vary but the majority include court costs, home studies (of the adoptive parents), medical care for the child and oftentimes the birth mother, application fees and advertising fees.

While Hutcherson has issue with fee discrepancies based on the child’s age or race, not all agencies operate that way.

Nonprofit agency Adoption Services, based in Pennsylvania, does not price children differently depending on their birth origin; though prices do vary, said adoption coordinator Betty Guise.

Guise said some adoption agencies do charge different rates for Caucasians, who tend to have longer waiting lists, referring to it as a “business decision.”

“We don’t do that,” she said. “We don’t think it’s right.”

On average, Adoption Services, which acts as an adoption liaison in just five states outside of Pennsylvania (Virginia, West Virginia, New York, New Jersey and Florida), places around 10 babies a year, Guise said.

She said harder-to-place children tend to be of African-American descent, and while the average placement period is 10 months to a year for white children, black children can wait as long as two to three years.

To combat this trend, American Adoptions, another nonprofit, based in Kansas, which arranges approximately 350 adoptions annually with three- to nine-month waiting times, offers a type of discount program for parents who adopt babies with any amount of African-American heritage.

Wade Morris, AA’s director of community resources, told TAI adoptions can range anywhere from $18,000 to $42,000 when you factor in agency fees, case management fees, counseling, medical expenses for the birth mother and baby, court fees, attorney fees, possible short-term foster care for the child and potential travel fees for an out-of-state baby.

“Every adoption is always different,” Morris said. “It depends on living expenses and medical, how many attorneys are needed. It has nothing to do with the age or health of the baby. Everyone is treated the same.”

Except when it comes to marketing — which Morris said is one of the keys to being a successful adoption agency with high turnaround.

The agency has two main adoption programs:

  • “Traditional”: This covers the adoption of all healthy non-African-American newborns/infants or any “non-African American combination of races.” The standard advertising fee in this program is about $10,000, Morris said.
  • “Agency Assisted”: This covers the adoption of healthy African-American or bi/multi-racial newborns/infants. In this program the standard ad cost is $2,000, with the rest of costs subsidized by the agency.

On its website, the agency explains that the programs were designed “to bring attention to the need for families to adopt African-American or part African-American children in the U.S. Across the nation, there is a vast shortage of families seeking to adopt children of an African-American descent.”

Morris said that children of African-American descent usually make up 40 percent of American Adoptions’ annual adoptions.

“It’s a benefit,” Morris said. “The agency helps subsidize to bring the cost down. Otherwise nobody would ever do it. It’s basically supply versus demand.”

John Van Valkenburg, spokesperson of Michigan-based Bethany Christian Services, one of the largest adoption agencies in the country with an average of 750 child placements annually and fees ranging from $15,000 to $25,000, said that while the agency recognizes that African-American children often wait longer to be adopted, they do not offer race-based incentives.

“We feel that would almost be putting a different value on certain races or certain ethnicities,” Van Valkenburg said. “We approach the need rather than discounting services.”

One of Bethany’s approaches, Van Valkenburg said, is to recruit African-American families through online portals such as the Michigan Adoption Resource Exchange.

The nickel-and-dime nature of adoptions has been documented over the years, and people like Hutcherson and groups like American Adoption Regulation would like to see federal regulations of independent agencies and foster care institutions. But Van Valkenburg does not see that in the cards, pointing out that children are wards of the state, not the federal government.

According to most recent available data (1987), of the approximately 130,000 children adopted annually in the U.S. (including international and foster care), about 8 percent involve parents and children of different races. The federal government also cites two-decade-old stats (1991), reporting “1,000 to 2,000 African-American children are adopted by Caucasian families each year.” Based on 1998 data, cited by multiple sources as the most recent available, an estimated 15 percent of the 36,000 adoptions from foster care were transracial or transcultural.

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