• July/August 2008
  • Vol. 9, No. 6

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Legislative Background of the Multiethnic Placement Act

The Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA) was signed into law on October 20, 1994, in response to concerns that many children, in particular those from minority groups, were spending long periods of time in foster care awaiting placement in adoptive homes. MEPA reflected Congress's judgment that children are harmed when placements are delayed longer than necessary to find qualified families. In particular, it focused on the possibility that the State agency policies that gave preference to placing children with families of the same race, culture, or ethnicity were resulting in delays, or even denials, in the placement of children with qualified families for foster care or adoption. MEPA required States to develop a large and diverse pool of potential foster and adoptive families, so that all children can be quickly placed in homes that meet their needs.

In short, the primary purposes of MEPA were to decrease the length of time that children wait to be adopted; to prevent discrimination in the placement of children on the basis of race, color, or national origin; and to facilitate the identification and recruitment of foster and adoptive parents who can meet children's needs.

Specific measures of the law as enacted in 1994 included:

  • State agencies and other entities that receive Federal funding are prohibited from delaying, denying, or otherwise discriminating when making a foster care or adoption placement decision on the basis of the parent or child's race, color, or national origin.
  • State agencies and other entities that receive Federal funds are prohibited from categorically denying any person the opportunity to become a foster or adoptive parent solely on the basis of race, color, or national origin of the parent or the child.
  • States are required to develop plans for the recruitment of foster and adoptive families that reflect the ethnic and racial diversity of children in the State for whom families are needed.
  • An agency or entity is allowed to consider the cultural, ethnic, or racial background of a child and the capacity of an adoptive or foster parent to meet the needs of a child with that background when making a placement.
  • The act has no effect on the provisions of the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978.
  • Failure to comply with MEPA is also made a violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI).

1996 Amendments to MEPA

Language in MEPA that permitted an agency to consider "the child's cultural, ethnic, and racial background and the capacity of prospective foster or adoptive parents to meet the needs of a child of this background" was repealed when MEPA was amended in 1996 by title I, subtitle H, section 1808, Interethnic Adoption Provisions (IEAP), of the Small Business Job Protection Act of 1996 (P.L. 104-188) (collectively, "MEPA-IEAP"). It also removed the words "categorically" and "solely" from the provision that prohibited denying individuals the opportunity to foster or adopt. That change reinforced the fact that such denials are prohibited.

The IEAP amendments provide for all of the following:

  • States may not delay or deny a child's placement into foster care or an adoptive home on the basis of the child or the parent's race, color, or national origin.
  • States may not deny an individual the opportunity to parent a child on the basis of the parent's or the child's race, color, or national origin.
  • States will be assessed a penalty for MEPA-IEAP violations.

The IEAP made the foregoing provisions to theTitle IV-E State plan requirements. The amendments did not change:

  • The Title IV-B diligent recruitment requirement
  • The provision that MEPA-IEAP does not impact ICWA's placement preferences
  • The provision that a violation of MEPA-IEAP is a civil rights violation of Title VI

Current Implementation Activities

Since the enactment of MEPA, the Children's Bureau has been working with States to implement the requirements of law. Efforts have focused on the following elements:

  • Active, diligent, and lawful recruitment of potential foster and adoptive parents of all backgrounds is both a legal requirement and an element of good child welfare practice.
  • The operative standard in foster care or adoptive placements has been and continues to be "the best interests of the child."
  • Delays in placing children who need adoptive or foster homes and denials in placement that are based on any consideration prohibited by law are not permitted.
  • Discrimination, whether directed toward potential foster or adoptive parents or children in need of placement, is not permitted.

The Children's Bureau and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office for Civil Rights have provided extensive guidance to States on the requirements of MEPA/IEAP in the form of Information Memoranda, Program Instructions, technical assistance, and training. The most current information can be found in the Child Welfare Policy Manual on the Children's Bureau website (www.acf.hhs.gov/j2ee/programs/cb/laws_policies/laws/cwpm/index.jsp).

The Children's Bureau and the Office for Civil Rights continue to work toegether to implement MEPA through the committed work of the Regional Offices.

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