When Children Become Commodities: Fees at Private Adoption Services Often Based on Race of the Adopted Child

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Fees paid by prospective adoptive parents for private adoptions are poorly regulated and, in some cases, are based explicitly on the race of the child, says UNC clinical assistant professor of law Barbara Fedders. Her findings are published in a forthcoming article titled "Race and Market Values in Domestic Infant Adoption" to be published in the North Carolina Law Review, volume 88.

Fedders recently completed a survey of private domestic adoption agencies to better understand factors affecting adoption costs. About 20 percent of the agencies Fedders studied openly advertised race-based pricing, but she says that some adoption professionals believe that as many as half of all private agencies engage in the practice.

"There are a significant number of private agencies that facilitate adoption that charge different fees based on the race of children being adopted," she says.

There are no local, state or federal laws prohibiting race-based pricing ,she explains. In agencies that engage in race-based pricing, Fedders finds that people adopting white babies are charged the highest fees; those adopting African American babies are charged the least. "Latinos and Asians are usually grouped with white babies," she says. "I believe this is a concrete demonstration of our society undervaluing black children."

Beyond concerns of racial justice, Fedders worries that excessively high prices offered for white babies may place undue pressure on low-income white pregnant women and, ultimately, the children themselves, for whom parents have paid a vast sum.

She says that while parents may expect to pay, an average of $40,000 to $50,000 for a private adoption from one of the approximately 2,000 private adoption agencies in the country, there is no national standard for regulation of private adoption fees. The costs of adoption may include home studies, placement fees and compensation for the mother's medical expenses. "There is very little concrete indication of where the money is going," she says.

Fedders states that market forces such as supply and demand may affect pricing. White couples seeking white babies are far more numerous than couples of other races, but white babies are less available.

Fedders argues that classical economic theory should not be applied to children. "It's a problem to say that families should be charged for a child whatever the market will bear."

"I'm unwilling, as a person whose career has been devoted to the well-being of poor and marginalized children, to accept a lot of the contemporary perspectives that suggest that market values are appropriate in child welfare," says Fedders. "One question driving my research was, 'Why is domestic infant adoption privatized?'"

In conducting her research, Fedders interviewed staff at agencies where prices are not based on race. "Many of them have said that people who want to adopt black children find the differential pricing repellant - and even if it would cost them less money to do it that way, they don't want to."

Fedders has also recently published an article about ineffective assistance of counsel in delinquency cases, published in the Lewis and Clark Law Review.

-June 8, 2010

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