Trans-racial adoption: where children of one race are adopted by parents of another. For a classic example of trans-racial adoption - we need only pick up one of the many gossip magazines or watch the entertainment news to hear about the ever growing trend of celebrity adoptions. The list of celebrities that have adopted trans-racially has been growing steadily for many years - with Madonna’s controversial adoption of David Banda in 2006 and Angelina Jolie’s compelling urge to have a multi-cultu
The glitz and glamour surrounding these celebrity adoptions led me to believe that adoption, especially that of a trans-racial nature is on the up, no longer a taboo subject, and that society was at last accepting of the multi-cultural family. Or so I thought...
In January 2010 as the Haiti Earthquake disaster hit our TV screens with the images of total devastation and of orphaned Haitian children - hearts bled. I, along with so many others, felt compelled to do something. I made up my mind one day, whilst watching the horror unfold on TV, that I was going out there to adopt and there was no two ways about it. I was going to get on this list, fly out there and save a child. I soon realised that my altruism was unrealistic and highly unlikely to come to fruition. It transpired that potential adoptive parents - already half way through the adoption process in Haiti, were being refused special rights to take their awaiting children out of the country. What chance did I have? However, I refused to let this deter me. So with the idea of adoption now heavy on my heart I decided to look a bit closer to home (UK), to see where I stood as an everyday civilian with non-celebrity status. My belief being that if I couldn’t do something for a child in Haiti, then the least I could do was to try and provide a nurturing home for a child who needed one at home.
I can honestly say that prior to looking into the adoption process - I was naive enough to believe that the only factor that would deem me as an unsuitable candidate would be my ‘single-status’, though I already have a biological daughter.
I hadn’t even thought about the ethnic background of the child I could possibly adopt. My head was full of idealistic dreams of providing a loving home for a less privileged child (any skin colour or origin), so I did my research...
Figures taken from the Adopted Children Register show, that in 1974 22,502 children were registered for adoption, in England and Wales. 5,172 under the age of one were found homes. In 2009 there was a significant decrease, where 4,725 children were put up for adoption, with only 91 under the age of one being placed within loving homes.
A steady decline in the amount of children that had been entered onto the register for adoption was apparent in the 1970’s, partly due to the introduction of the Abortion Act 1967, where legal abortions was introduced as well as the implementation of the Children Act 1975.
In 2009, in total 3,300 children of various ages were adopted from CARE, 82% were of white ethnic origin (a decrease from previously 86%), for mixed- ethnic children there was a small increase from 9% to 12%. The rate of adoption is now at the lowest level in 11 years - with around 4,000 children waiting to be adopted in the UK at any one time, spending an average of 21 months in care homes. It also takes 50% longer for a black child to be homed than a child from any other ethnic group.
These statistics are alarming, but what surprised me was that black children were not only taking longer to be homed, it was also apparent that this was mainly due to the principle applied by local authorities that children should be placed into families that can fulfil each child’s ‘cultural needs’.
This shouldn’t be the case, especially in the 21st century - where inter-racial relationships are on the up and clearly evident. Why is there this controversy surrounding cross-racial and cross-cultural adoption? I decided to look for some answers.
My ethnicity is mixed race. I grew up in a trans-racial, multicultural family. My dad is Ghanaian and my mother was Scottish. Unfortunately my mother died of cancer when she was 29- years- old, not long before my triplet sisters and I turned one. My mother already had a 5- year- old daughter from a past relationship (she is white), and a 2- year old son (my brother from the same dad). My sister was then adopted by my father as he considered her to be his daughter, and the whereabouts of her biological father were unknown. A few years after my mother’s death my father got re-married to a Ghanaian woman, raising all of us together, including my three younger sisters who are black, as one big happy family. It struck me that my sister’s views on her childhood could shed some light on the issues I was exploring. She said:
“I didn’t have a problem when I was younger - like most children when you are young you are more adaptable. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens that the cultural differences started to bother me slightly, but only when it was pointed out at school by other kid’s; once it’s made a fuss off by other people you sort to ask questions yourself.
I did feel the need for an insight into, what could be called, ‘my own culture’. We lived in a white area; my friends couldn’t understand why my African parents were so strict and why we were all so different.
I did go off the rails in my teens, as I went about trying to seek acceptance through other means. Thankfully, after I experienced a very rocky start into young adult hood, I still had mum and dad to fall back on. Yes - they are not my biological parents, but they are the ones who were there for me and they are the ones I still turn to now as a fully grown woman. I had a secure upbringing.
There was always food on the table, and clothes on my back. I had a family that I could call a family”.
She pauses to laugh “I always remember the image of dad walking me down the aisle at my wedding, and my husband’s side of the church staring, mouths open, utter confusion on their faces. I was so proud to be part of something then that was still quite unique”.
My sister married her husband, who is white, in 1996, and has three young sons, who call our parents Grandma and Granddad. My sister thinks that when it comes to trans-racial adoption it’s a shame that local authorities still feel the need to match like for like when looking for potential parents:
“The country has changed so much from when I was growing up, and even more since the 1990’s when I was married. There are so many kids’ now that have biological parents of different ethnicities in one form or another. I can’t believe that this could still be a main contributing factor to matching a child to parents. Being part of a family where you are loved, and cared for is the only thing that matters here”.
I agree with her views, and therefore was delighted to hear that the Education Secretary Michael Gove announced new guidelines in February this year to reverse the fall of adoption rates. These new guidelines will not only make it easier for single parents to adopt, but will also encourage local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies to open their arms wider to all potential adopters. They will no longer be able to turn people away on the grounds of race, age or social background. This was fantastic news - finally Britain was speaking out. Or at least I had thought this was the case until I spoke with a friend who wanted to offer her experiences when she knew I was writing this story.
“I adopted my son, two years ago” she told me. “He is now 4- years- old. He is also white. I can’t have children, so when my husband and I started looking into adoption we went in open minded. We had asked in the very early initial stages about adopting an older child of different ethnicity, as we had discovered a lot of black children, especially siblings were not being adopted. We were told right there and then that we were not able to adopt outside our ‘ethnic group’. At the time we did not pursue this further. We spent Two years going through the adoption preparation courses which are extremely rigorous before we went in front of the adoption panel for their decision. Thankfully we were successful.
. Now that the new guidelines have been set, my husband and I embraced the news as we are looking to adopt another child. When we spoke to our local authorities about our chances of now being able to adopt outside of our ethnicity we were told ‘the law may have changed, but not in the eyes of social services’. I was shocked to hear this, and it’s sad to think that it seems some local authorities and social workers still have, at their own discretion, the right to make this choice. Even when I look through the 1st of March issue of ‘Children Who Wait’ magazine from adoption UK, that is sent out to all adoptive and potential parents within the UK, there still clearly stipulates under each child of ethnic minority Needed - parents that can reflect child’s ethnicity. I understand that adopted children have a sense of belonging and the need to understand where they belong in the family unit. But the reality is there are not many black or mixed race potential adopters coming forward.
"During our preparation courses which consisted of potential parents from all around the UK, there was not one black person. Yes - in an ideal world it would be fantastic if children in care could be adopted into a family which reflects their ethnicity, but those views are idealistic and old fashioned”.
The question of why people of black origin are not coming forward to adopt will have very complex answers indeed, and is a whole other story. There are many recruitment programs for black parents, within Local Authorities and Independent Care providers trying their utmost to recruit black people to adopt. These measures clearly show that a deficit exists and needs to be tackled.
I have read many debates and the views of those given by some trans-racially adopted children, now adults, who have come forward and vocalised the views shared by local authorities that ‘love is not enough’. The one thing that stood out to me is that the majority were adopted in the sixties and seventies, where trans-racial adoption was at its highest rate. At a time when there was a lack of diverse cultural communities with white people living in predominately white areas and ethnic minorities in another. I cannot question the struggle they would have had to go through in order to find a sense of identity at a young age, and also as an adult in a time when differences were viewed as oddities. It does make one wonder though - as we now live in a mostly cosmopolitan country, full of diverse cultures living on the same streets, where children have a different skin colour to their biological parents, shouldn’t we be more equipped now more than ever as a society to accept trans-racial adoptions? Will we start to see more with the new guidelines, or will social services carry on standing in the way of much needed progress?
The stories will no doubt emerge from the generation of children currently and hopefully being adopted into a trans-racial family in years to come. I will be very interested to hear what their views will be. My wish to adopt is now stronger than ever.