Adoption placements are being “unduly delayed” because of agencies’ obsession with finding the perfect ethnic match between parents and child, Martin Narey, the chief executive of Barnado’s, warned today.
Speaking at the charity’s conference, Narey complained that children often faced long delays while waiting to be placed with an adoptive family.
He said: “Adoption transforms life chances and it needs to be given greater priority. And while we should search for the right ethnic match for a child we should be rigorous – and follow the law – in ensuring that adoption is not unduly delayed while we search for that match. If necessary we need to compromise to effect adoption which we know will be more successful the earlier it occurs.”
Mr Narey also called for new targets to reduce the number of children waiting to be placed for adoption.
He said: “Urgent action is required so that decisions are taken within a timescale that meets the child’s need. We urgently need system wide targets to help drive down delays which are not in the interests of the child.”
Inter racial adoption is now almost unheard of in Britain. Black and Asian children on average wait three times longer than white children for an adoptive family. The latest figures show that of the 1,714 children were referred to the Adoption Register for England & Wales in 2007, 501 were black or of dual heritage.
Critics argue that too many adoption agencies are overly concerned about race and waste time trying to find perfect matches for children from increasingly complex ethnic backgrounds.
The Conservatives have pledged to remove the barriers which currently prevent white couples from adopting Black and Asian children. David Cameron plans reforms to stop ethnic minority children being stuck in the care system.
The Conservatives have examined the situation in the United States, where the law was changed in the mid 1990s to prevent adoption agencies from delaying placing children with adoptive families because of race. Within two years of the change, one in three states reported a fall in the wait for adoptive families for ethnic minority children.
Inter racial adoption was popular in the 1970s in Britain but is now extremely rare. The 2002 Adoption and Children Act places a duty on local authorities to give “significant consideration” to culture and identity when looking for suitable parents. Critics argue that this is being interpreted too literally by adoption agencies and making it virtually impossible to find new homes for some children.
However, supporters of same-race adoption argue that it is important for children to remain in touch with their ethnic cultural heritage. Research from the British Association for Adoption & Fostering has suggested that nearly three quarters of children in inter-racial adoptions said they always “felt different” from the rest of their family, compared with fewer than half in same-race placements.
A spokeswoman for the charity Action for Children, a leading voluntary adoption agency, argued that same-race adoption was best for children.
Its Adoption Black Families service, founded in 2003, is the first of its kind to be set up specifically to match black, Asian and mixed heritage children with permanent families from the same ethnic background.
She said: “The project was established in response to research that showed for every available BME adoptive home, there were three children waiting to be adopted. It works to encourage and support people who may be reluctant to consider adoption to come forward.”
A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said that no child should ever be denied an adoption placement because of race.
He said: “The child’s welfare is the paramount consideration in all decisions to do with adoption. We know that placing a child with a family of similar ethnic origin and religion is most likely to meet the child's needs as fully as possible. But, where no family can be identified which matches the child's ethnic origin and cultural heritage, the adoption agency must consider alternative suitable families. We have made it clear that it is unacceptable for a child to be denied loving adoptive parents solely on the grounds that the child and prospective adopters do not share the same racial or cultural background."