Racial Matching in Adoption
By Bea Mahmood
This week marks National Adoption Week run by BAAF (the British Association for Adoption and Fostering). While nearly 4,000 children in the UK are awaiting placement in a loving home, adoption agencies are still battling racial issues when placing them. The adoption process is stringent and often eliminates potential adopters on the basis of details which are sometimes debatable. Yet racial matching – which is essentially a form of discrimination – is perfectly acceptable when considering adoption.
Earlier this year, the ban on mixed-race adoption was lifted. Eliminating this outdated law means that social workers are no longer required to take a child’s cultural background into account when trying to find them a new home. The ban is a commendable move in creating a more progressive society as adopters are now no longer required to be a perfect nor partial ethnic match, to the adoptive child in question.
However, no rule has been created on racial profiling when people are looking to adopt. In fact, prospective adoptees are entitled to state their preference of race when choosing a child. So far, 2013 records show that 36, 616 children in the UK have entered care. Displaced children are in most need of love, support and attention. Yet, how can, not only prospective adoptive parents, but also society, give each one of the 36, 616 uprooted children the appropriate level of care and stability when they are fundamentally being discriminated against even before they enter society?
Allowing parents to specify what race their child should be is an invitation to display a racial bias, which is neither healthy, nor acceptable.
However many parents desire to adopt a child that matches their own ethnic background because they feel the child will fit into the family better. Pakistani carer Abida, who has previously fostered over 25 children, tells us she would always consider race when fostering: ‘I think children should be matched to the family they’re going to. Otherwise, it really isn’t fair on the child because it becomes confusing.’
Interracial adoption will undoubtedly lead to the child asking questions later on in life as racial differences become obviously visible. Speaking on her experiences of adopting a newborn Jamaican baby, Abida tells us: ‘People knew she wasn’t mine. They used to ask me questions and looked at me funny when I took her out. I looked after her for nine months and the entire family became very attached to her. When it was time to give her to permanent adopters, it was upsetting but it was the best decision for her because she went to a Jamaican family. I believe she went to the right home.’
It is understandable that a child may grow up feeling confused or alienated but is there really room for racial matching in the adoption world? With so many children needing care, should parents be allowed to be picky? According to figures released by Ofsted, the largest ethnic origin of all adopters approved by local authorities was White at 92% (4, 528) and respectively: Asian at 2% (120), Black at 2% (104) and Mixed 2% (83). The striking imbalance across ethnic groups adopting is worrying. If people prefer to adopt children of their own ethnicity, then what happens to the Asian, black or mixed children who only have 2% of adopters to choose from?
Although potential parents can state their preference, adoption agencies do assess the desperation of the situation and put the child’s needs first. Carolyn Oliver, adoption manager at children’s charity Barnardo’s tells us: ‘Where ever possible the aim is to still try and place children with families of similar ethnicity. However a child’s overwhelming need for a consistently caring family is priority and ethnicity should not be a reason for delay.’
If the primary reason against interracial adopting is simply because of what other people think, then perhaps there must be a change in thinking. Although interracial adoption should not be taken lightly, it is still something that should be encouraged. It is unfair to objectify a child or reject it on the basis of a physical feature. It is obvious that discrimination is present in all facets of our culture, and it seems adoption is just another sector where people allow racial biases to dictate their actions. Nevertheless with adoption, we should be taking conscious steps to ensure it does not become a factor in preventing a child from being accepted in a stable home. When will skin colour and race be perceived in the same light as gender or height, when we look at someone? If the parents can’t see past skin colour when adopting for the sake of a child in need, who will?