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The Extended Family System in the Black Community: A Child-Centered Model for Adoption Policy

38 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2009  

Gilbert A. Holmes

University of La Verne - College of Law

Date Written: 1995


Recent controversial cases have renewed debates about adoption and its effect on family relationships and definitions. Part of the controversy stems from adoption policy that mandates severing birth-family ties as a prerequisite to establishing adoptive-family ties, a policy which forces courts to choose between competing adults with different, yet valuable, claims. The issues engendered by this choice requirement are not new. Scholars and other interested persons have called for changes in adoption policy for the past forty years. Similarly, they have called for re-evaluations of legal concepts that utilize the nuclear family as the model for family law policy.

Terminating the legal relationship between the birth family and the child, and creating a legal relationship between the child and the adoptive family, does not alter the fact that adopted children remain genetically, and often psychologically and emotionally, connected to their birth families. Not all adoptive children experience the connection to their birth families in the same way. Some experience little or no connection, while others experience a significant one. The remainder fall somewhere on the continuum between these poles. Regardless of the extent to which particular adoptive children value their connection to their birth families, the fact remains that a connection exists.

In this article, I propose a child-centered adoption policy that acknowledges adopted children's place in a complex family structure that includes their adoptive and birth parents and their relatives, thus avoiding the inadequacies of existing policy regarding adopted children's adoptive and birth relationships. This article looks to the child rearing aspects of the extended family system in the Black community as a model of how a complex family structure operates. Under the child-centered policy proposed in this article, the law should facilitate adopted children's connection with both their adoptive and birth kin by (1) permitting emancipated adopted children access to their full adoption records without any prerequisites; (2) enforcing post-adoption contact agreements between adoptive and birth parents; and (3) permitting minor adopted children to contact their birth kin upon showing that the contact will serve the adopted children's best interests.

Keywords: adoption policy, family relationships, children, birth families, adoptive families, nuclear family, family law

JEL Classification: K19, K39, J12, J13

Suggested Citation

Holmes, Gilbert A., The Extended Family System in the Black Community: A Child-Centered Model for Adoption Policy (1995). Temple Law Review, Vol. 68, No. 4, 1995. Available at SSRN:

Gilbert A. Holmes (Contact Author)

University of La Verne - College of Law ( email )

320 East D Street
Ontario, 91764

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