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What is Transcultural Adoption?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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A transcultural adoption is an adoption which crosses cultural boundaries, with the adoptive child being of a different culture than that of the adoptive parents. Many transcultural adoptions are also transracial, which means that the child has a different racial background in addition to a different cultural background. Both transcultural and transracial adoption are extremely common in Europe and the United States, but they are surrounded by complex social and cultural issues.

While adoption has been practiced for centuries, transcultural adoption only really began to be explored in large numbers the wake of the Second World War, when many American couples adopted children from other nations, particularly war-torn countries. By the Vietnam War, transcultural adoption had become very common, with parents adopting children from Southeast Asia; some of these children were of mixed cultural heritage.

As transcultural adoption became more widely accepted and practiced, a number of organizations which specialized in such adoptions rose to cater to American and European parents. Children from Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa, and Latin America are placed with a variety of parents, with ages of the adoptees ranging from infancy to childhood.

Advocates for transcultural adoption have a number of reasons to support adoption across cultures. Children in need can be found all over the world, and the ability to help children should not be restricted to people from a certain cultural background, for example. Furthermore, many children involved in transcultural adoption are removed from hazardous situations such as unstable political regimes, and adoption may give them a chance at a better life. Furthermore, proponents argue that transcultural adoption promotes cultural exchange, and fosters understanding between people from differing cultures.

Critics of transcultural adoption feel that adoption can strip children of their heritage by importing them into an entirely foreign environment. A Korean child raised in the United States, for example, may feel no connection with the Korean community, but be isolated from the white American community by ethnicity. Some transracial adoptees experience emotional distress, feeling as though they have been stolen from their native cultures.

Negative perceptions about transcultural adoption also color public opinion of this type of adoption. Some people think that adopting internationally is easier than adopting domestically, despite the fact that international adoption is subject to strict standards. Others feel that people may be adopting transculturally for the wrong reasons, and that social issues cloud transcultural adoptions, making it hard to adopt internationally with integrity, when when parents have good intentions.

Parents who do decide to adopt transculturally should consider their motives with care, and pursue the educational opportunities available to them to learn more about the cultures their adoptive children come from. Cultural education is increasingly required of parents who want to participate in a transcultural adoption, as is a stay in the child's native country.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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