Good parenting outranks all other considerations

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Social work has always been rooted in a campaigning commitment to social justice and anti-discrimination, so there's always been a sensitivity to racial and cultural difference. There's always been a strong sense of the needs of minority children in the system and that these needs should be a focus of campaigns. For years people thought the solution was to try to get the same ethnic match with adopters. In general, there was a kind of anxiety that black kids were already suffering from extra difficulties and as a buffer against racism in the long term you should find adopters that look like them.

That was the aspiration, but that idealism foundered on the reality that you couldn't always achieve it. Children were missing out their chances of finding adoptive parents because of the delays in finding a match.

The rules have changed in the past year, and the Government has made it very clear that ethnicity and race is just one significance among a number of considerations. In many places there has been an increase in flexibility and a more pragmatic, respectful attitude to adopters and foster carers.

So there's been a big shift in focusing on helping adopters to promote all aspects of a child's identity rather than them needing to look like each other.

But you wonder whether there are still inappropriate anxieties about the success of transcultural placements.

The thing that matters most in my experience is that you've got really good parenting to help children to overcome their previous attachments and terrors – that outranks everything else.

As adopted ethnic minority children grow up they become more conscious that they've gained a great family but also lost their background, and they'll be wondering about other countries and cultures. So you get the turbulence of adolescence with that extra element. However, it's an obstacle that can be overcome if they have a carer who is willing to take this seriously and answer their questions about the past.

Jeffrey Coleman is a former social worker and is now the British Association of Adoption and Fostering's director for southern England

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