Story and photo by TALON CHAPPELL
The home of Jim and Connie Child in Layton is a traditional Mormon dwelling: a spotless front room with a pearly white couch, followed by a stairway with artisanal wooden handrails and family photos hanging from the adjacent wall.
But, one look at the family photos and it is clear that the Childs are different from other families who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Jim and Connie have adopted two children in their 23-year marriage, 15-year-old Ashton and 8-year-old Camilla, both of whom are of African American descent.
The Childs are just one of numerous families who have taken part in transracial adoption in Utah over the past several years. While actual numbers are rough estimates, the American Adoption Agency says that transracial adoptions are on the rise not only in Utah, but nationally as well.
After a two-year wait, Jim and Connie learned that they were going to be parents for the first time. Baby Ashton was brought to the Childs’ home in August 1997. Baby Camilla was brought home the same month in 2005. Finally, the Childs had their perfect little family, and nothing could take that away from them.
“We were ecstatic about having a child,” Jim said after officially adopting baby Ashton.
Initially, the Childs didn’t think about the difference of parenting black children in a white household. But they couldn’t ignore it forever.
“We knew white, black, green or pink that we would raise our children to be good members of the church and share our values,” Connie Child said. “But we also didn’t want to shun our children from their cultural background.”
Kayleen Vidal ran into this quandary often when she worked at A Act of Love Adoption Agency.
“Lots of transracial adoptive parents wonder how they can maintain some kind of lifeline to their child’s cultural roots…. Some parents just ignore it, but we encourage them to be involved and do m
any different kinds of cultural activities that coincide with their values and beliefs,” Vidal said.
Vidal herself was adopted and after she learned that she could not bear children, she chose to adopt. After bringing home her baby girl, she decided to help other hopeful parents take in the thousands of
newborn and foster children up for adoption. She loves seeing interracial families and was so proud when she was able to help create one through adoption.
“Multiracial and multiethnic families need to be more commonplace in Utah,” Vidal said. “I believe racism will diminish when people see the happy, healthy families that transracial adoptions create.”
So, what exactly do the Childs teach and do with their children to avoid the cultural pitfalls that can occur in transracial adoptions?
Ashton Child says his parents are a big influence on him and who he surrounds himself with. “My parents are really involved in the stuff I like … the music I listen to, and the games I play, and the kids I hang around with, and the girls I hang out with.”
Ashton’s goals offer a snapshot of how his white, LDS family background merges with his fondness for black cultural icons and figures.
“Well, I haven’t thought about it much [future career] but maybe a music producer or artist … after I serve my mission, of course,” Ashton said.
Ashton’s future goals are sweet music to the ears of Shawna, Ashton’s birth mother.
Shawna still stays in touch with the Child family from time to time, making visits on holidays and special occasions. But she makes a point to not be too involved in Ashton’s life.
“I was comfortable with my decision,” Shawna said. “I gave my baby to that family with the trust t
hat they could take care of him better than I could, and I believe they have.”
Shawna says she is proud of Ashton’s aspirations and she hopes that he becomes successful in whatever he chooses.
“Although it’s not my faith, I’m glad he wants to serve a mission,” she said. “It’s good for children to have faith in their lives and the Childs have instilled real faith in him … and I don’t care if he’s a producer, doctor, teacher or whatever. I just want him to be happy and not make some of the decisions I made when I was young,” she added, with a crack of emotion in her throat.
The U.S. does not have a system to keep track of the total amount of adoptions per year, but there are several reports that offer estimates of public and private adoptions.
According to the North American Council on Adoptable Children, 6 percent of Utah’s foster-care children are African American and of that number, only 3 percent have been adopted.
Those interested in adoption can find numerous adoption websites both locally and nationally. Foster parenting is also a viable option for those who do not wish to wait the typical amount of time for an adoption to open up, or who cannot afford the costs of a traditional adoption. Utah law requires that adoptive parents be single or married, but couples living in an unmarried sexual relationship (including gay and lesbian couples) may not adopt in Utah.