Adoption couple 'not aware of race issues': Government calls for report on case of Asian woman and her white husband rejected by social services as parents of mixed-race child

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THE Government yesterday asked for a report into the case of an Asian woman and her white husband who were blocked from adopting a mixed-race child on the grounds that they had not shown enough understanding of racial issues.

Department of Health officials could order the local authority to reconsider Jim and Roma Lawrence's case if it was thought that the assessment had not been handled correctly by the Norfolk adoption panel.

However, a spokesman for the department said it was 'most unlikely' that it would order a review, although there was nothing to prevent the couple approaching any of the other 36 agencies in their area to be reassessed.

The furore over the case highlights some of the difficulties surrounding adoption that have prompted the Government to review the law. The results of the review will be published in a White Paper later this month.

The couple, from Cromer, Norfolk, have been married for 13 years. They decided to adopt in 1990 because they had unsuccessfully tried to have a child of their own for nine years.

They were furious at being twice rejected as adoptive parents. Social workers visited their four-bedroom, detached home on many occasions over seven months to assess their suitability.

'When we were turned down as adoption parents, the main reason given was that we had a lack of understanding of racial issues. It is ridiculous because we could offer a happy, safe and warm home to a youngster,' said Mr Lawrence, 39, who owns a publishing business.

Mrs Lawrence, 41, who was born in Guyana and grew up in Brixton, added: 'It is stupid to say I know nothing about race. I was born in Guyana and grew up in Brixton, which is a multi-racial area. I did suffer a small amount of verbal abuse when I was at school, but I simply have not had any problems in the 12 years we have lived in Norfolk.'

Their application was rejected by the council's adoption panel made up of five social workers and five independent members. The couple appealed against the decision two months later, but the same panel rejected them again in November 1991.

Mr Lawrence reserves his strongest criticism for the social workers. 'The first social worker we had assigned to us was a lovely lady and was very sympathetic, but she was replaced by a younger woman.

'She was very politically correct and jumped on things I said. When I made a harmless remark about how women usually made domestic decisions and did things like choosing the curtains, she turned to Roma and asked her what she felt of my chauvinism. But we got a really hard time from a middle-aged male social worker who was sent to give a second opinion. Almost his first question was about the racism we had suffered in Cromer. He couldn't believe it when we said we had experienced none.'

'He said we had obviously experienced it, but were too racially nave to realise it was hapening to us. We asked him where he was getting his opinions from and he said he had read about it in books and magazines.'

But David Wright, Norfolk's director of social services, defended his department's decision to turn the couple down on the panel's recommendations. He maintained that their case had been thoroughly reviewed twice, and on the second occasion they had been allowed to make representations to the panel.

'We have nothing to hide,' he said. 'Racial issues formed a very small, almost insignificant, part of this case. We had to look at their own personalities, their integration as a couple. They need an understanding of bringing up children, through childhood, adolescence, and on top of that being adopted.'

John Bowis, health minister with responsibility for adoption, said the prime aim was the welfare of adopted children. But, he added: 'We must make sure absurdities aren't creeping into the system.'

(Photograph omitted)