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Interracial adoption (also referred to as transracial adoption) refers to the act of placing a child of one racial or ethnic group with adoptive parents of another racial or ethnic group.

Interracial adoption is not the same as transcultural or international adoption though in some circumstances an adoption may be interracial, international, and transcultural.



Based on the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) in the U.S., the fiscal year of 1998 showed that approximately 64% of children waiting in foster care were of non-Caucasian background; 32% were white. Out of all foster children waiting for adoption 51% are black, 11% are Hispanic, 1% are American Indian, 1% are Asian/Pacific Islander, and 5% are unknown/unable to determine. Data from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) in the U.S. show that adoption of an unrelated child was most common among childless white women and those with higher levels of income and education. The most recent estimate of interracial adoption was performed in 1987 by the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) and it found that 1% of white women adopt black children, 5% of white women adopt children of other races, and 2% of women of other races adopt white children (estimates include foreign-born).[1]

The US Census 2000 found that "White (and no other race), not Hispanic children made up the majority of all categories of children of householders under 18: about 58 percent of adopted children, 64 percent of biological children" and "Of the 1.7 million households with adopted children, about 308,000 (18 percent) contained members of different races."[2]

Between 2008 and 2009, approximately 2,700 white children were adopted compared to only 410 mixed-race children and only 90 black children in the UK. Approximately 1 in 10 children in care is black and 1 in 9 children in care comes from a racially mixed background. Black, mixed-race and Asian children typically wait to be adopted on average three years longer than white children. Children of mixed ethnicities are more likely than other children to be placed for adoption. The Children Act 1989 and Adoption and Children Act 2002 state that in England and Wales an adoption agency must give due consideration to a child's religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background; this requirement was repealed for England in the Children and Families Act 2014.[3] Adoption placement of children of mixed ethnicities is difficult because it is influenced by values, ideology and anti-oppressive practices that need to be considered within the practice. Mixed ethnicity children are subject to racism and complete inclusion of both parts of their heritage. Mixed children will struggle with discrimination from both parts of their ethnicity, desiring solidarity from both parts of their ethnic backgrounds.[4]

Interracial adoption grew significantly from 1999 to 2005 where it reached its peak year at 585 adoptions to the United States. Following 2005, interracial adoption into the US declined with 288 adoptions in the year 2011. From 1999 to 2011, there has been 233,934 adoptions into the United States from other countries across the globe. Of the total adoptions, 39.4% (92,202 children) were under the age of 12 months.[5] Also, 63% (146,516 children) were female. Overall, children from China were the most common to be adopted. 66,630 were from China and Russia was the second largest country with 45,112 children.


Before World War II it was very rare for white couples to adopt a child of a different race and every effort was made in order to match a child with the skin color and religion of the adoptive family. Then in 1944 the Boys and Girls Aid Society took an interest in the increasing number of minority children waiting to be adopted which focused on children from Asian American, Native American, and African American heritage. Children of Asian and Native American heritage were most easily placed outside of their racial group while those of African Americans heritage proved more difficult. The campaign was called "Operation Brown Baby" and its objective was to find adoptive homes even if from a different race, the first candidate in this operation, Noah Turner, was a Chinese baby adopted into a Caucasian family in 1947. Then during the civil rights movement, interracial adoptions in the United States increased dramatically and the numbers more than tripled from 733 cases in 1968 to 2,574 cases in 1971. (There are now about 6,500 cases a year.) It was then that the National Association of Black Social Workers condemned interracial adoption citing that adoptees were at risk for developing a poor racial identity due to lack of contact with role models of the same race. In the 1990s the placement of black children into non-black homes virtually came to a complete stop.[citation needed]

Additional informationEdit

Families formed across racial, national, and biological boundaries represent a growing demographic, adding to the pervasive, historical diversity of family forms in the United States (Coontz, 2008). Since 1990, the number of U.S. adoptions of foreign-born orphans has increased in unprecedented numbers, rising from 7,093 children to 12,753 in 2009—an 80% increase: China ranked as the top sending country, and Vietnam ranked as the seventh highest (U.S. Department of State, 2009). Whereas diversification in the family form is not a new phenomenon, it often appears so, given that family communication scholarship on nontraditional families is a relatively recent development.[6][7][8]


In 1994 the Howard M. Metzenbaum Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA) was passed. It prohibits an agency that receives Federal assistance and is involved in foster care and adoptive placements from delaying or denying the placement of a child based on race, color, or national origin of the child or adoptive/foster parent. Then, in 1996 it was amended with the Interethnic Adoption Provisions, also known as the Interethnic Placement Act. These provisions forbid agencies from delaying or denying the placement of a child solely on the basis of race and national origin. The purpose of these revisions was to strengthen compliance and enforcement of the procedures, remove any misleading language, and demand that discrimination would not be tolerated.

Another important law regarding interracial adoptions was the Adoption and Safe Families Act that was implemented in 1997. The purpose of this law is to reduce the time that a child spends in foster care by implementing a two-year limit and therefore hopefully moving a child closer to permanent adoption. The purpose of this act was to reduce the instability and abuse problems in the foster care system. Critics argue that it also takes the emphasis off of trying to keep children with their biological parents.

Academic researchEdit

Adolescent adjustmentEdit

One study found that interracial adoptees fare sometimes better, sometimes worse, but overall about the same as their same-race adopted counterparts across the 12 adjustment measures investigated. These measures investigated indices of academic, familial, psychological, and health outcomes for 4 groups of interracial and same-race adopted adolescents. Specifically, interracial adoptees had significantly higher grades and significantly higher academic expectations but marginally more distant father relationships and higher levels of psychosomatic symptoms than their same-race adopted counterparts. Also, Asian adolescents adopted by white parents had both the highest grades and the highest levels of psychosomatic symptoms, whereas black adolescents adopted by black parents reported the highest levels of depression. On the other hand, black adoptees reported higher levels of self-worth than non-black adoptees.

Appearance discomfortEdit

Another report suggested that adjustment problems among their children at approximately the same levels as were reported by the parents of intraracially adopted whites. Yet, evidence also showed that extra-family forces, for example societal racism, did negatively impact adjustment outcomes. Particularly, experiences of discrimination generated feelings of appearance discomfort. The research suggested that black and Asian children, who appear unmistakably different from whites, are most likely to encounter such societal discrimination. Apparently, many Latino children with European physical features can safely escape such expressions of racism. One of this study's most interesting findings showed that interracial adoptive parents' decisions on where to live had a substantial impact upon their children's adjustments. Interracial adoptive parents living in predominantly white communities tended to have adoptees that experienced more discomfort about their appearance than those who lived in integrated settings.

Identity developmentEdit

Transracial adoptees are posed with the challenge of understanding the differences between their own view of identity and the identity reflected and modeled by their parents. Identity entails, not only race, but also heritage, culture, ethnicity and many other descriptors. Studies have sought to explore how children of interracial adoption are affected in these varying categories in an effort to counter the argument that transracial adoptions can have confusing and conflicting effects on a child's view of self-identity. Research suggests that the age of adoption and parenting acculturation styles may influence the way in which transracial children construct and build their own identities.[9]

Many groups continue to argue that children put up for adoption should be matched with same race parents in an effort to better help the child assimilate culturally and racially. This idea is commonly known as race-matching, when the adoptee and adoptive parents are paired based on race. In 2008, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute reignited the interracial adoption debate with its recommendation that race should be considered in selecting adoptive parents for children awaiting placement. These reports examined adoption of black children by white parents. They found that interracial adoptees face additional and complex challenges coping with being "different", particularly if they grew up in homogeneous white communities struggling to fit in with both their adoptive families and the black community, feeling awkward and out of place in both settings, developing a positive racial/ethnic identity, acknowledging racial differences but without expressing racial pride, and managing racial prejudice and discrimination. The findings from the Donaldson report links the challenges that interracial adoptees face with socialization practices of adoptive parents that minimize racial differences, particularly when parents do not facilitate their children's understanding of and comfort with their own ethnicities.

However, there has also been academic research on transracial adoption that has shown that black children can build strong racial identities when adopted by white parents.[10] In light of this debate, much research has been specifically designed to analyze how transracial adoption affects the construction of a child's personal identity, and whether the circumstance of transracial adoption present such acclaimed negative influence on development. One study[11] compared black children who had been placed with black adoptive families and black children who had been transracially adopted. They measured self-esteem and perception of racial identity. While there was no difference in perception of racial identity, there was a difference in how they perceived their own racial identity. Transracial children were "more likely to identify themselves as being adopted and to use racial self-referents than in racially adopted children" (McRoy, 1982). This study relates back to the importance of how influential transracial adopted parents acculturation, socialization, and awareness of race plays into fostering a positive racial identity for the child.

A study involving Korean adoptees was designed to obtain information on how family involvement in culturally related activities factored into a child's ethnic identity. Results showed that children exposed to higher levels of involvement in Korean cultural activities attributed to a higher measure of Korean identity. In addition, these children were more easily able to communicate openly about their adoption. Children are able to express the adoption that they experienced. The implications of this study suggested that involvement of cultural activities of the child's native culture may help in the child's development of integrated ethnic identities.[12] Another study, conceptually similarly, looked at both the parents and the children to measure how color-blind racial attitudes would affect engagement in activities of the adoptees native culture. Color blindness is the sociological concept that race, or racial characteristics, do not exist amongst people. The study found that parents scoring lower on color-blind racial attitudes positively correlated with high scores on acculturation and socialization levels, meaning parents that were aware of their cultural differences took part in more cultural activities of their adoptee.[10] It is important to note that this study looked at international adoptions, which subsequently includes transracial adoptees, but is not specifically focused on this particular subset of individuals.

Another study, again focused on Korean transracial adoptees, sought to explore self-concept and acculturation through measurements of Religion, Honesty, Relationships with Opposite Sex, Physical Appearance, general self-concept, math, emotional stability, and relationships with parents in relation to age of placement of Korean adoptees. The significant findings in this study highlighted that the later the age at which the Korean adoptees were placed, the higher Honesty self-concept scores were.[9] The implications of this study presume that the older in which a child is adopted, the more secure they are in their ethnic identity. Due to a longer amount of time, exposed to their native culture, the longer they had to develop a sense of identity of that culture before their adoptive parents' culture.

Ethnocentric biasEdit

Finally, some research has examined the empirical studies of interracial adoption themselves. These studies address whether past research that claims that interracial adoption positively benefits children of color, particularly black children, may have methodological difficulties. Specifically, these studies analyze the presence of an ethnocentric bias in legal and scientific assessments of children's well-being and adjustment.

Assimilation into the familyEdit

Multicultural families have both similarities and differences from the biological family. A family that has participated with interracial adoption shares similar roles, life stages, and transition points as other families. The challenge comes, however, with the pursuit of a shared family identity through communication. Linda D. Manning conducted a research study on this topic titled "Presenting Opportunities: Communicatively Constructing a Shared Family Identity". The research question she posed initially was, How do members of a multiracial adoptive family communicatively co-construct a shared family identity that emphasizes similarities and allows for difference? The results of the study found that having "cultural artifacts" in the home allow for the embrace of the differing cultures represented in the family. It "creates a worldview that embraces diversity – not just races and ethnicities directly related to those embodied by family members. The choice to embrace multiple races and ethnicities... affirms the multiethnic experience" (Manning, 2006). The study also showed that parents, in any family, present the family identity and the child responds. This is where an interracial family would share the similar roles as in a biological family. The parents act as educators and spokesperson. The children act as compliant participant, challenger, and expert. The research also showed that in an interracial family, there is tension between uniqueness and conformity. It is difficult but essential to balance these two qualities within the family identity. Manning concludes the research study by describing how "the constructs of a shared family identity is both a process and a product". The process includes roles and themes within the family while the product is developed through communication. "A shared family identity is a group identity that encompasses individual identity characteristics shared by each family member, allows for salient differences between and among family members, and accounts for dialectic tensions that exist within family interactions, as well as between the family and the community".

Education prior to interracial adoptionEdit

The United States Department of State offers multiple resources for parents wanting to adopt such as the "Intercountry Adoption from A-Z" publication, Adoption guides, Adoptive families committees, FAQs, and Visa information. All of these and more are available on their website.[13] The article, "Adoptive Parent's Framing of Laypersons' Conceptions of Family" by Elizabeth A. Suter, Kristine L. Reyes, & Robert L. Ballard, addresses the importance of parents preparing for outside comments from others. This study showed that families that had participated in interracial adoption had experienced comments such as "their families violated the canonical view of family in terms of racial dissimilarity between members, construction of family via adoption, and adoption of a child born out of the United States". The article uses a battleground as a metaphor for an adoptive family. The external view of the family does pose as a challenge for interracial families. The results suggest that prior to interracial adoption, parents "should be made aware of social stigmas... and be provided with opportunities to develop a critical consciousness about such stigmas". The research also suggests and encourages required statewide courses for prospective parents.

Support and oppositionEdit


Controversy over interracial adoption revolves around politics and sociology. Throughout the globe, the controversy over interracial adoption has come from racism and ethnocentrism. Support for interracial adoption comes from trying to counteract racism and get foster and orphaned children into safe homes as soon as possible.

Ethnocentrism in the US has an impact on adoption policies. The adoption of interracial and international children have been debated for several decades. Specifically, associations around the globe have focused on the adoption of Black children as the point of contention. What this means for children in the US is that many Black children age out of the foster system and are never adopted. In the United States, the majority of adopting parents are White. Around the world, interracial adoption has increased popularity. However, many associations have opposed transracial adoption instead of choosing to support race matching. Race matching in the United States is when the child’s perceived race is matched with a parent or parents

Racism against interracial families has decreased since the distinct spike of interracial adoption in the US in the ethnocentric bias suggests that parents of a non-minority group cannot provide the racial and ethnic identity the child needs. In the US the divide is about equal between those who approve of transracial adoptions and those who do not. In an effort to promote the adoption of Black children, legislation was signed into effect that makes it illegal for Agency and the States to receive federal funding to consider race for the adoption of children. Children of color are disproportionately represented among the population of children in the child foster and placement system, specifically Black children. Due to the ethnocentric bias of the situation, many of those children never leave the foster or placement system because it is now rare for non-White children to be placed in a White home.

As Western countries develop, more people are becoming open to adoption. When adoptive parents choose to internationally adopt, they are able to “choose” the race of their child. They can choose to adopt any child from any country that allows international adoption and they can generally know what race that child will be. However, in countries like the United States where there is not one set race and the demographic is more like a melting pot, often times children of color in the domestic foster system are left out.

International adoption creates a greater gap between the parents and the child’s culture. Not only does race factor into adoption but international adoption also create barriers between the child’s biological culture and the culture that they are being brought into. Depending on the age of the child, ethnocentrism becomes stronger as the age of the child increases. Culture shock is a factor associated with opposition to international adoption. Specifically, as more countries try to promote domestic adoption and keep adoptees in their countries longer, those children are getting internationally adopted later. This contributes to the cultural gaps as the wait times increases and children have begun making relationships with the people, environment, and culture around them.[14][15][16]


A dichotomy exists in reference to the subject of interracial adoption. Critics of race matching say there is a darker side involving whites with lingering racist beliefs against mixing races. They argue that children are hurt most by the practice. "One of the problems with race-matching policies," says Donna Matias, a lawyer with the Institute of justice, "is that it leaves the children in the system to wait. They are thrown into a vicious cycle where the chances plummet that they will ever get adopted."[17] Never getting adopted has been shown to have a negative impact on children. After aging out of foster care, 27% of males and 10% of females were incarcerated within 12 to 18 months. 50% were unemployed, 37% had not finished high school, 33% received public assistance, and 19% of females had given birth to children. Before leaving care, 47 percent were receiving some kind of counseling or medication for mental health problems; that number dropped to 21% after leaving care.[18]

Recent legislation such as the Multiethnic Placement act of 1994 (MEPA), the Interethnic Adoption Provisions, and the Adoption and Safe Families act of 1997 are acts that aim to shorten the wait time of minority children in the child placement system.

From the 1960s to the 1970s, there was a significant increase of ethnic minority adoptions into White families. From the 1970s to the 1980s, there were many studies conducted in an attempted to prove that White families could successfully raise Black children. The adoption of minorities, specifically the emphasis of adopting Black children into White families is in some part an attempt to reverse racism and prejudice of transracial families. Although the National Association of Black Social Workers believe that Black adoptees in White homes are not able to build identity and connect to the Black Community, the NAACP, as well as other institutions, argue that a safe and welcoming home is better than no home at all.

The Media has taken steps to normalize interracial adoption. Books, movies, and television shows have taken steps to be more inclusive of interracial families. By these examples, people are exposed to worlds where racial identities and ethnic identities may differ in contrast with the norms of those two identities being synonymous. Studies have shown that Children in a transracial household may attribute value to race but may fail to evaluate their worth based on race. Studies have shown that self-esteem is not negatively affected by interracial adoption despite the “lack” of a role model of the same race.[19][20][21]


Opposition to interracial adoption has been reactionary to extreme misuse of adoption practices; for example Australian aborigines were taken from their parents, sterilized and then adopted for Christian upbringing. Similar cases happened with Native Americans. The National Association of Black Social Workers, which consisted of twelve members, opposed interracial adoption, saying it was "cultural suicide", but their opposition was opposed by such groups as the NAACP.[22][23][24][25][26][27]

Despite the legal right to interracially adopt, some associations argue that interracial adoption is detrimental to the development of the child’s identity as well as damaging to the African American community. Institutions worry that the lack of a proper role model within the same race community affects the growth of the child’s identity. Even if the child is raised racially aware, it is speculated that that does not have the same effect as being raised within the community and therefore creates a rift between the child’s identity and the collective identity of their race.

Other arguments opposing interracial adoption derive from deep-rooted problems within the foster and adoption system. Fiscal and racial issues have emerged from this system. There are times when child welfare agencies have opted for the cheaper living arrangement of the child instead of the best situation for them.[28][29]


  1. ^ "Persons Seeking to Adopt". National Adoption Information Clearinghouse. Archived from the original on December 5, 2003.
  2. ^ "Adopted Children and Stepchildren: 2000" (PDF). October 2003.
  3. ^ "Children and Families Act 2014". Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  4. ^ [1][dead link]
  5. ^ "Intercountry Adoption". Bureau of Consular Affairs. U.S. Department of State.
  6. ^ Coontz, S. (2008). American families: A multicultural reader. New York: Routledge.
  7. ^ Suter, E. A., Reyes, K. L., & Ballard, R. L. (2011). "Adoptive Parents' Framing of Laypersons' Conceptions of Family". Qualitative Research Reports in Communication. 12 (1): 43–50. doi:10.1080/17459435.2011.601524.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ "Fiscal Year 2009 Annual Report on Intercountry Adoption" (PDF). U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Intercountry Adoption. 2009. Retrieved 29 May 2018.
  9. ^ a b Wickes, Kevin L.; Slate, John R. (1996-06-01). "Transracial adoption of Koreans: A preliminary study of adjustment". International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling. 19 (2): 187–195. doi:10.1007/bf00114788. ISSN 0165-0653.
  10. ^ a b Lee, Richard M.; Team, Minnesota International Adoption Project; Grotevant, Harold D.; Hellerstedt, Wendy L.; Gunnar, Megan R. (2006). "Cultural socialization in families with internationally adopted children". Journal of Family Psychology. 20 (4): 571–580. doi:10.1037/0893-3200.20.4.571. PMC 2398726. PMID 17176191.
  11. ^ G., McRoy, Ruth; A., Zurcher, Louis; L., Lauderdale, Michael; N., Anderson, Rosalie (1982-11-01). "Self-esteem and racial identity in transracial and inracial adoptees". Social Work. 27 (6). doi:10.1093/sw/27.6.522. ISSN 0037-8046.
  12. ^ Soon Huh, Nam; Reid, William J. (2016-12-20). "Intercountry, transracial adoption and ethnic identity: A Korean example". International Social Work. 43 (1): 75–87. doi:10.1177/a010522.
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  15. ^ Reisch, Michael (2008-06-01). "From Melting Pot to Multiculturalism: The Impact of Racial and Ethnic Diversity on Social Work and Social Justice in the USA". The British Journal of Social Work. 38 (4): 788–804. doi:10.1093/bjsw/bcn001. ISSN 0045-3102.
  16. ^ Reisch, M. (2008-04-15). "From Melting Pot to Multiculturalism: The Impact of Racial and Ethnic Diversity on Social Work and Social Justice in the USA". British Journal of Social Work. 38 (4): 788–804. doi:10.1093/bjsw/bcn001. ISSN 0045-3102.
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  20. ^ Frasch, Karie M.; Brooks, Devon (April 2003). "Normative Development in Transracial Adoptive Families: An Integration of the Literature and Implications for the Construction of a Theoretical Framework". Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services. 84 (2): 201–212. doi:10.1606/1044-3894.95. ISSN 1044-3894.
  21. ^ Curtis, Carla M. (March 1996). "The Adoption of African American Children by Whites: A Renewed Conflict". Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services. 77 (3): 156–165. doi:10.1606/1044-3894.890. ISSN 1044-3894.
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  24. ^ Christ, Fran. "When Whites Adopt Blacks." PLAN Preadoption Course, May 1990, pp.1-3.
  25. ^ Courtney, Mark, "The Politics and Realities of Transracial Adoption." Child Welfare, Nov/Dec 1997, vLXXVI n6, pp.749-773.
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  27. ^ Taylor, Robert and Thornton, Michael, "Child Welfare and Transracial Adoption." Journal of Black Psychology, May 1996, v22 n2, pp.282-291.
  28. ^ Butler-Sweet, Colleen (Summer 2019). ""A Healthy Black Identity" Transracial Adoption, Middle-Class Families, and Racial Socialization". Journal of Comparative Family Studies. 42 Iss. 2: 193–209 – via ProQuest.
  29. ^ Curtis, Carla M (Summer 2019). "The adoption of African American children by whites: A renewed conflict". Social Services and Welfare, Sociology. 77 Iss. 3: 156–164 – via ProQuest.

Further readingEdit

  • Burrow, A. L. & Finley, G. E. (2004). "Transracial, Same-Race Adoptions, and the Need for Multiple Measures of Adolescent Adjustment," American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 74(4), 577-583.
  • Courtney, M. and Piliavin, I. (1998). "In Struggling in the Adult World," The Washington Post, July 21, 1998. Study conducted by School of Social Work, University of Wisconsin–Madison.
  • Feigelman, W. (2000). "Adjustments of transracially and inracially adopted young adults," Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 17(3), 165-183.
  • Grob (2003). "International Adoption: The Relationship between Child and Parent Characteristics and Parent Report of Child Adjustment," Dissertation Abstracts International. A, The humanities and social sciences, 64(4).
  • Huh, N. S. & Reid, W. J. (2000). "Intercountry, Transracial Adoption and Ethnic Identity," International Social Work, 43(1), 75-87.
  • Suter, E. A., Reyes, K. L., & Ballard, R. L. (2011). Adoptive Parents' Framing of Laypersons' Conceptions of Family. Qualitative Research Reports in Communication, 12(1), 43-50.
  • Intercountry adoption. (2012, February 14). Retrieved from
  • Manning, L. D. (2006). Presenting Opportunities: Communicatively Constructing a Shared Family Identity. International & Intercultural Communication Annual, Vol. 29, p43-67.

External linksEdit