Recently Bethany Christian Services released a report detailing what their agencies have learned over this past year due to the pandemic. The report includes a number of observations and some proposed reforms. One of those reforms is a revaluation of a 1994 law called the Multi-Ethic Placement Act (MEPA) and, more specifically, a rollback of changes made to that law in 1996.


Although the report details several challenges during the pandemic, regarding MEPA, the author state:


While well-intentioned, MEPA has substantively failed to achieve its stated intent since a disproportionate number of children of color continue to linger in foster care. This law also prevents social workers from ensuring the protection and support of Black children’s cultural heritage within their temporary or permanent homes. Further, it prevents professional social workers from assessing whether a family is unqualified or unprepared to appropriately parent a child of another race and prohibits child welfare professional from offering families additional trans-racial parenting training”


One of CWLA three HOT TOPICS for the Virtual Hill Day on Wednesday May 12, is calling on Congress to address racial equity:  Racial Equity in Child Welfare: Address the Roadblocks.  We hope you are planning to join your CWLA members and colleagues for our 2021 Virtual Conference, Lessons Learned from 2020: Reaching New Heights for Children and Families, taking place from May 4-6, 2021. We have added a fourth day for the CWLA 2021 Virtual Hill Day on Wednesday, May 12. In preparation we are holding two Special “Open Mic” calls will be held on Monday, April 19 and Monday, April 26 at 2:30 pm (ET).

Against a backdrop in the 1990s of rising caseloads, the promotion of adoptions became a charged issue due to the overrepresentation of Black children waiting to be adopted and how families are recruited in the adoption process. In 1994, the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act (PL 103-382), or MEPA, sought to reduce the number of children in underrepresented groups who enter and remain in foster care by prohibiting federally funded foster care and adoption agencies from delaying or denying placement decisions “solely” on the basis of race, color, or national origin for adoptive or foster parents and children. Another provision required diligently recruiting racially or ethnically diverse foster and adoptive parents to reflect the needs of children in care and the communities involved. As enacted in 1994, MEPA did allow agencies, at least in legislative language, to consider the child’s cultural, ethnic, or racial background, and the capacity of the prospective parents to meet the child’s needs, as some of the factors used to determine the child’s best interest.


In 1996, less than two years later, Congress changed the law by removing the word “solely” so that it prohibits “delaying or denying a placement on the basis of race, color, nationality.” This is the Interethnic Placement Act, or IEPA, which specified a penalty for violations equal to 2 percent of Federal Title IV-E funds for a first violation, 3 percent for a second violation, and 5 percent for three or more violations. Private agencies can be required to pay back any Federal funds received.


In 2003, HHS issued its first fines against Hamilton County, Ohio, totaling $1.8 million, based on 16 transracial adoption cases. Accompanying these fines was an information memo by HHS to all state child welfare agencies that highlighted this action and the need to adhere to the 1996 law. At the time, CWLA member agencies advised us of the adverse consequences to practices.


Join us at our Conference and then participate in our virtual hill day as we ask Congress to begin the process of changing the way we deal with racial inequality. MEPA reforms are just a first step.