Adoption: Why can't white people adopt a black child?

With so many children from ethnic minorities living in care, Kate Hilpern asks whether the virtual ban on white couples adopting them amounts to `political correctness' at the expense of the children.

Jonathan is three years old and, like hundreds of black children in care, he longs to be adopted.

Having made enquiries into his circumstances, a white couple recently expressed an interest, but because Britain now operates a strict policy of same-race adoption, they were refused. Jonathan, they were told, must wait until a family with similar ethnic heritage was found.

If this were likely to be achieved speedily, few would argue against it. But, say increasing numbers of experts, not only is it unlikely to happen quickly, in many cases it may not happen at all - leaving the likes of Jonathan languishing in care. Thus transracial adoption has become one of the most controversial areas of adoption in the Nineties.

Jane Aldridge of Children First, a pressure group in favour of transracial adoption in instances where same-race placement cannot be achieved, argues that because there are no hard statistics on current practice, informed debate is almost impossible. "Although it's clear that black children waiting to be adopted are over-represented in care, there are no statistics about just how many they amount to, let alone how many are successfully placed with a family," she says. "And although recruitment of black adopters is undoubtedly slower than white adopters, nobody knows to what extent."

Felicity Collier, director of British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering (Baaf),believes the process can be speeded up. "Just because it is believed that black children should be ethnically matched, that shouldn't mean they have to wait any longer in care. Local authorities have shown that efforts to recruit black families can be successful. The `Soul Kids' project in 1975 - the first recruitment campaign targeted at ethnic minorities - revealed that they are just as keen to adopt, but are less confident about coming forward."

Until that confidence is instilled on a national scale,who will pay for the consequences? In the past, transracial adoption has undoubtedly been racist. Even as recently as the Sixties, black children in care were, like handicapped kids, seen as "hard to place". Over time, projects were set up to place them in families, and because adoption was a white, middle- class preserve, so were the adopters. To be fair, many of them were trying to make a conscious gesture towards a more integrated society, in which colour was unimportant because everyone was the same underneath. But by the Eighties, the idea that racial differences were superficial was recognised as wrong. It was discovered that many transracially adopted children had grown up with no positive racial identity. Jenny Darrell, 34, a member of the Association for Transracially Adopted and Fostered People (Atrap) is one such person. Raised in a family where race wasn't even mentioned, she explains, "I lived in a rural village with no other black children around. No consideration was taken about my race, and that had a huge impact on my behaviour and identity. By the time I was 13, my parents had placed me into care."

In 1989 it was decided that there should be clear guidelines about same- race placement. And with rumours of some black children talking in white stereotypes - or, worse, rubbing themselves with bleach - few argued against it. Issues of race and adoption are openly discussed by today's families. In fact, it is a strict pre-requisite.

Sue Richardson, mother of four transracially adopted children, says it would now be unheard-of for adopters not to live in an ethnically rich area, or to incorporate aspects of the child's background into everyday life. "Race has always been talked about in our family," she explains. "And in situations where I need help, I turn to People In Harmony, a group providing support to mixed-race families. It deals with anything from skin care to how to deal with racism, and consequently my children have developed positive racial identities." Coping with and understanding racism are important in the debate, since white families simply cannot equip black children to deal with racism in society in the same way that black families can, claims Baaf. But whilst white people can never really know how it feels to be victims of racism, studies show that black and white parents give similar advice to cope with racism, and that both sets of parents discuss racism to a similar extent and in similar ways. "It seems to me that most aspects of transracial adoption that fail are due to lack of education," says Liv O'Hanlon, who was put off by the rejecting atmosphere around transracial adoption in Britain and consequently adopted from Central America. "Of course, my child cannot fully experience his original culture here, but no culture is entirely pure. Living in London 15 years ago, I might not have been able to get Latin-American music, chillies, tortillas and relevant films very easily, but I can now. And it's these that are the essentials of culture."

It is also significant that not all transracial adoptions in the Seventies were unsuccessful. Clare Gorum, 31, was one of four adopted children from a variety of races and feels the ethnic variety enriched her upbringing. Yet because she is of mixed race, she would find it harder than ever to be adopted by ethnically similar people if she were a child in care today. "And who do you classify as black or white, anyway?" asks Liv O'Hanlon, stressing that neither constitutes a homogeneous group. "I have known of a child with one black grandfather who was not allowed to be placed in a white family." And whilst nobody suggests that children already placed in white families should be taken away, the backlash has left many white parents and their black children feeling devalued and guilty. Ironically, some parents who had adopted one black child were then told by the same adoption agency that they were not allowed another, isolating the adopted child even further. "It would be unfair to suggest that adoption agencies have not taken these details into account," says Jane Aldridge. "In many ways, I feel we've won the argument but lost the war. I mean, they agree in theory, but it just doesn't happen in practice." Same-race placements must be in the best interests of the child, she says. And black adopters should be recruited much more quickly than at present. In the meantime, it could be said that the wheel has turned full circle: children from ethnic minorities are once again waiting indefinitely in care, because of their race.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SAP Project Manager

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

    SAP Project Manager

    competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

    Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

    £600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

    Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

    £65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

    Day In a Page

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star