Adoption is a matter of the heart. Most couples planning to add a child to their families would go ahead even without a helping hand from Congress.
But adoption can also entail financial and bureaucratic challenges, and any help in meeting them is welcome, since few things are more important than bringing together caring homes and youngsters who need them.
Legislation recently passed by the House of Representatives could provide such assistance. Its central feature is a $5,000 tax credit for adoptive parents. The credit, which can be spread over five years, is designed to offset the fees, court costs, counseling, and other up-front expenses common in adoptions. Lowering the initial financial hurdles in this manner could bring more families into the adoption picture.
And the bureaucratic hurdles? A major one in recent years has been a system-wide, sometimes inflexible emphasis on "race matching" - a policy of placing children only with adoptive parents of the same racial background. That approach, championed most vocally by black social workers, sprang from concerns that African-American children would suffer by being cut off from their ethnic roots and identity.
In practice, the policy has meant that many black children languish in foster care because black adoptive parents can't readily be found. And the older children get, unfortunately, the harder it becomes to place them.
The House-passed measure still allows for consideration of race when more than one family is interested in a child, but would remove the virtual mandate for same-race adoptions. Strongest emphasis can thus be put where it belongs, on the caring and nurturing offered by a prospective family. Ample examples of multiracial families exist, proving that such adoptions can work very well.
These two elements - the tax credit and encouragement for transracial adoption - are constructive steps. They should clear the Senate, too, and be signed into law. But they'll go only a short way toward solving the problems facing the country's foster-care and adoption services. Politicians claiming too many "family-values" laurels for having supported these measures should be forced to face the sad facts.
Some half a million American children are in foster care, many of them bouncing from one home to another and never knowing the feeling of belonging. Roughly half of these kids are black or Hispanic. Many have physical handicaps; many bear emotional scars; few are easier-to-place babies or toddlers. They deeply need stability and a family's love.
The nation has barely begun to address the needs of these children and to reform the state-run systems that often simply warehouse them. Foster care has to be better monitored and supported; families willing to adopt hard-to-place kids need assistance beyond the initial boost of a tax credit. Congress, and the rest of us, should be looking ahead - toward still more ways of helping children find homes.