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Trans Racial Adoption

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Title: CULTURAL COMPETENCE FOR TRANSRACIAL ADOPTIVE PARENTS , By: Vonk, M. Elizabeth, Social Work, 0037-8046, July 1, 2001, Vol. 46, Issue 3

Database: Academic Search Premier


This article provides a clear conceptual definition of cultural competence for transracial--cultural adoptive (TRA) parents based on an extensive review of the literature and feedback from both experts and parents. Following the differentiation of cultural competence as defined in the social work literature and cultural competence as applied to TRA parents, a three-part definition of cultural competence for TRA parents is presented. The article expands on each of three constructs: racial awareness, multicultural planning, and survival skills. In addition, it describes the process of beginning to operationalize the constructs. Finally, implications for social work practice, education, and research are suggested.

Key words: cultural competence; multicultural planning; racial awareness; survival skills; transracial adoption

This article explores and defines the concept of cultural competence as it applies to parents who adopt across race or ethnicity. Typically, transracial adoptive (TRA) parents are European Americans who form their families with children who are members of a different racial or ethnic group by birth. This method of family formation has been debated vigorously, especially concerning the domestic adoption of African American or biracial children (Hollingsworth, 1998), and less often concerning international adoption of Asian or Latino children (Tizard, 1991). Although controversial, transracial or transcultural adoption accounts for an estimated 14 percent of all adoptions that take place in the United States (Smith, 1994). Of these, the majority are children who are adopted from countries outside of the United States, including Latin American, Eastern European, and Asian countries. According to U.S. Department of State data, the number of children adopted from other countries has grown substantially over the past 20-plus years, from about 5,000 in 1975 to more than 13,500 in 1997 (U.S. Department of State, 1998). In recent years the majority of the children have come from the People's Republic of China and Russia.

Supporters and critics of the practice strongly recommend that (TRA) parents need to acquire the attitudes, skills, anti knowledge that enable them to help their children develop positive racial identities and survival skills for life in a racist society (Andujo, 1988; McRoy, 1994; Rushton & Minnis, 1997). Although strong suggestions for training TRA parents abound in the literature, there is no agreement or guide as to exactly which attitudes, skills, and knowledge are needed by this group of parents to enhance their cultural competence.

A clearer understanding of the attitudes, skills, and knowledge that TRA parents need is essential for social work practice, education, and knowledge building. This article represents a beginning effort to fill the need for a conceptual definition of cultural competence for TRA parents based primarily on an extensive review of the literature, as well as feedback from a panel of experts and a group of TRA parents. I present a three-part definition of cultural competence for TRA parents, expand on each of the three constructs, and discuss operationalization of the constructs.

Defining Cultural Competence in Social Work

Cultural competence has been the subject of much attention in social work over more than a decade (for example, Greene, Watkins, McNutt, & Lopez, 1998; McPhatter, 1997). These authors stressed the importance of cultural competence for practice in an increasingly pluralistic society in which most helping professionals have been trained in a monocultural tradition. In addition, they point to the inadequacy of continuing to practice as if racial and cultural differences are insignificant. Reviewing the evolution of the concept of cultural competence in the field of social work, Greene et al. suggested a three-part framework: knowledge, attitudes, and skills. On the basis of their extensive review of social work literature, Greene et al. then elaborated numerous diversity principles related to each of the three areas of culturally competent practice. Knowledge "refers to the information needed to develop an accurate understanding of the client's life experiences and life patterns" (p. 48). One principle, for example, involves understanding the history of oppression for an individual or group. The attitude component is related to the social worker's self-awareness of assumptions, values, and biases that are a part of his or her own culture and worldview and understanding of the worldview of the client who is a member of a different culture. This includes principles such as understanding ethnocentric thinking and learning to appreciate differences. Skills concerns the development of practice skills that are tailored to meet the needs of a client from a different culture, including cross-cultural communication skills.

McPhatter (1997) has defined cultural competence as it applies to social work practice in the field of child welfare. Her conceptualization also is based on growth in three areas: (1) enlightened consciousness, (2) grounded knowledge base, and (3) cumulative skill proficiency. Although some of her specific guidelines are tailored to child welfare practice, there are many similarities with the conceptual framework summarized earlier. Both underscore the importance of acquiring particular attitudes, knowledge, and skills. It is not enough to be aware of how race and culture affect self-functioning; individuals also must be open to learning about the effect of race and culture on others, to learning about racism and mechanisms of oppression, and to acquiring the cross-cultural skills that enable effective intervention.

There are other similarities in McPhatter's (1997) and Greene et al.'s (1998) definitions. Both stress the notion that cultural competence involves a developmental process that requires a long-term commitment. Cultural competence is not a specific end product that happens after a two-hour workshop. It is an active process of learning and practicing over time. McPhatter summed up the definition with the following: "Cultural competence denotes the ability to transform knowledge and cultural awareness into health and/or psychosocial interventions that support and sustain healthy client-system functioning within the appropriate cultural context" (p. 261).




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