Working to transform the child welfare system.

The Multi-Ethnic Placement Act (MEPA) needs reform to reduce racial inequities in foster care and adoption

The federal Multi-Ethnic Placement Act (MEPA) was created in 1994 to “decrease the length of time that children wait to be adopted; to prevent discrimination in the placement of children on the basis of race, color, or national origin; and to facilitate the identification and recruitment of foster and adoptive parents who can meet children’s needs.” The original version of MEPA allowed for the consideration of a child’s cultural, ethnic, or racial background during the placement process, as well as assessment of a prospective foster or adoptive parent’s capacity to meet the needs of foster children with varying backgrounds.  

The Congressional Black Caucus fought hard for this provision, only to have it repealed by the Interethnic Placement (IEP) Act in 1996. The IEP Act mandated a ‘colorblind’ approach to foster care and adoption placements, prioritizing placement of children in homes with almost no consideration for the race of the child or prospective adoptive parent(s). The intention of the Act was to reduce the time from foster care to adoption (aka ‘permanency’).  The result, however, was disregard of children’s racial and cultural continuity in favor of transracial adoption.

Since its inception, the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act (MEPA) has failed both to address racial disproportionality in the child welfare system and to increase the number of foster and adoptive parents of color. The MEPA in its current form prioritizes timely permanency over other factors associated with child wellbeing, such as relational permanency and cultural continuity. 

P4C’s new policy brief provides a number of suggested policy solutions to enhance equity for children and prospective foster/adoptive parents of color. Suggestions include:

  • Amending MEPA to allow child welfare workers to consider the race and ethnicity of children and prospective foster and adoptive parents to determine whether a foster or adoptive family can meet a child’s needs. 
  • Enhancing recruitment efforts to find families that represent the makeup of the community to better serve children in care. 
  • Providing culturally relevant training and other support services for foster and adoptive parents who do not share a child’s racial, cultural, and/or tribal background to assist in fostering children’s identity formation and connection to their culture.

We would like to thank the following organizations for providing input on the recommendations in the brief:

  • Child Welfare League of America (CWLA)
  • Generations United (GU)
  • North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC)
  • Latino Family Institute
  • National Indian Child Welfare Association (NICWA)
  • National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW)
  • Spaulding for Children
  • Congressional Research Institute for Social Policy (CRISP)

Read the brief in full by clicking the green “download PDF” button at the top of the page.