The BBC broke a story today about a Sikh couple who had been advised against seeking to adopt in their area as only white children were being placed for adoption. A few years ago Martin Narey (previously head of Barnardos who assessed us for adoption the first time) wrote about how white couples were being unfairly excluded from adopting non white children who were waiting for families. This is an old story with a new twist on it as this time it's an asian couple saying that they are not being treated fairly. Underlying this story though is one of the most basic injustices faced by children in care. The assumption that only a 'perfect match' will do and until that can be found they must wait.
Excluding families from consideration for adoption on the grounds of race is completely out of order. The Government guidelines are very clear that the needs of children must be prioritised and a long term plan for a child has to be better than the insecurity of remaining in care. Of course I don't know the details of the case that the Manders are bringing against Adopt Berkshire, but it sounds very similar to what me and Hubbie faced when we were first trying to adopt - way before Brown Bear was born. We were told that there were not children of our specific ethnic mix and it was unlikely that we would find an exact match. It was not an issue for us when they asked us to consider two girls who were different ethnicities, but half sisters. One was white and the other dual heritage. You see it's not as simple as it seems. Children can have half siblings or full siblings who are also being considered for adoption. They may not be the same ethnicity as the child you have adopted so what do you do ? Are you supposed to say, "no thanks this one doesn't look like us."
When we were first assessed and approved to adopt we waited for a long time and were being told over and over that we were not the right racial mix to adopt the children waiting to be adopted. I met other couples who had been told the same thing. If you are not the same ethnicity as the child you will not be able to provide an authentic family scenario for them (my words). This completely disregards the real life families where children are raised by step parents, single parents, grandparents or other family members who might not look like them at all. It is not just about how people look though. We were told that the children we were being considered for were from 'a muslim background.' Now I have two problems with this:
1. a child does not have a religious background - they are not old enough to make an informed choice about this
2. A birth parent can ask for their religion to be taken into consideration when placing a child, but it is not set in stone. Frankly if you are not raising your child then you do not get a say in how they will be raised.
Harsh ? Maybe. In some cases the child's parentage is not even known so how on earth can a local authority insist that they must be placed with a family that is an exact match ? We lost faith in the system at the point that a local authority changed it's rules to actively stop us from being considered as adopters for a child in their care. It seemed that they really didn't want to find a family for that little boy and I don't know if they ever did find a family with the specific mix of ethnicities that he had. We were told that the majority of asian children in care were likely to be from a muslim background so I asked how many muslim adopters they had and was told pretty much none. So the children were being kept in care waiting such time as their 'perfect parents' decided to come forward to become adopters. No other adopters would be considered for them in the meantime and these children would get older and eventually be too old to adopt. The chances of a child being adopted after the age of 5 drastically decrease so the longer they wait the less chance there is for them to be placed long term.
The foster carers who looked after Blue Bear before he joined our family are practising muslims. They have been caring for children of chinese origin for over a year. Often children do remain in foster care for extended periods of time and the ethnicity of the foster carers is not taken into consideration. Children can live with a foster family for years while waiting for the 'perfect match' of adoptive parents. This is an extreme reaction to the policy in the past of placing children of all ethnicities with white families - who were in the majority as adopters. I have met many adopters who have raised black and asian children as their own. The children do not see this as a poor substitute as in most cases they were raised with love and kindness.
I'm not going to say something trite like, 'all children just want to be loved' because for one thing it's blindingly obvious. For another when a child has experienced neglect, abuse, trauma and separation it can take a lot more than the power of love to help that child to accept that they are worthy of being loved and cared for. Even the youngest of babies can have issues around separation from birth mother and finding parents who are the same ethnicity / religion might be a short cut, but it certainly won't make it any easier for the child to accept this new family. One of the reasons that we were first on the list to adopt Blue Bear was because he looks like Hubbie and he also looks like Brown Bear. It makes it much easier for him to 'pass' because of that physical resemblance, but had it been the overriding reason for choosing us I think I would have had an issue with that.
For me the saddest thing that may result from this case is that the couple involved are considering overseas adoption as a solution. Slough has the largest population of Sikhs in the entire UK and has just elected the first turban wearing Sikh into parliament. The decision to not even give consideration to this couple suggests that the situation will not change. That only white children will require permanent placement for the forseeable future. It takes months to undergo the assessment process to be an adopter. Even with a fast track it takes at least 6 months. When we were assessed there were around 10 babies waiting to be placed with adopters and by the time we were approved there were not children under 5 waiting at all. This is a system that is forever changing and it is not predictable. I won't share the particular circumstances that led to Blue Bear being in care and the eventual decision to place him for adoption. They are specific to him and private. What I can tell you is that when we started the process he wasn't even in foster care. He was not, 'in the system.'
I feel so deeply for this couple and the unfairness of not even being considered. All the local authorities I contacted told us that they did not have children of the same ethnicity as us. I remember telephoning agencies in areas with high populations of asians to increase our chances of being considered as adopters and being told that it was unlikely. On top of the pain of infertility it was just too much. It felt like everything was against us. However, I am made of sterner stuff and did not take no for an answer and went to a different agency who were prepared to assess us as potential adopters. I thought that would be the most difficult part of the process, but oh how little I knew.
Fast forward to now and we have a wonderful family of two boys who came to us in very different ways. No one sees what we went through to get here - or what we are still going through. To anyone who doesn't know we just look like any other family. A brown British Sikh woman, a white British agnostic man, a football mad 6 year old and a cheeky 3 year old.
Just like any other loud, boisterous, hilarious, argumentative and loving family.