Adopting the right attitude
by Toby Bakare
The Department of Education's plan to reform adoption ask questions about how much priority Britons should give to race. This is why they are controversial, but also hugely significant as well. Under plans put forward in today’s Children’s and Families Bill racial or cultural factors would not be used as primary factors when matching a child to prospective parents.
A recent report has sought to answer conclusively whether inter-racial adoption can be harmful. The study followed 72 women from Hong Kong to the UK from the 1960's onwards as they made lives with white parents who adopted them.
The report states that great harm is done to these children by being adopted in to white families, concluding that the children experienced ‘varying levels of racism, prejudice and feelings of belonging and difference within their adoptive families and wider communities.’
Whilst I would not seek to denigrate anyone's personal experience, the idea that race should be a priority over the ability to be a good parent is becoming a marginal one and if Britain in the 21st century has any hopes of living up to its own multicultural ambitions then this has to be the case.
With these changing attitudes to race one must recognise that the study is already out of date and crucially flawed. With confidence it can be asserted that a Chinese child adopted and integrating in today’s Britain would have a very different experience from one born in the 1960's.
The negative experience of those in the study is heightened by the fact that they were adopted from overseas to the UK. Moving countries while being adopted adds another dimension to the process and is bound to heighten feelings of negativity or alienation towards Britain or British culture. This international element is not applicable to most adoptions in this country which are domestic affairs.
One negative experience was bullying experienced in school because of race. Unfortunately no amount of enlightenment can stop bullying being a fact of life and living in a majority white area where you may be the only child of colour in a classroom may mean dealing with race head on as the difference is so visible. While this may be uncomfortable the flipside of this is to insist on being surrounded by people who are the same colour skin as you. To have a sense of belonging by being surrounded by people that look like you may be acceptable as a child, but as an adult it is surely distasteful at the very least. Is this to be encouraged by the state?
Another negative experience was feeling disconnected from their culture of origin. This is however a fact of life for all non-white children regardless of whether they were adopted. All 2nd generation (and onwards) migrants experience, to a greater or lesser extent, some kind of longing for the mother land, tension between cultures, and feelings of not belonging. There is no conclusive way to address this, and one must bear in mind that while you wait for the right 'culturally aware' parents to come along that child's wait for parents is being forced to go on.
In adoption the job of the state is to give young people who have been in some way abandoned by their parents a chance to flourish - this is what is best for them, has the least harm. Feelings of inadequacy can be smoothed by sensitive parents, parents deserving of having a child to adopt. A lifetime in the care system will not be so helpful.
Government policies should be based on social attitudes of the day. And in today's modern Britain race is used less and less as a determining factor in any decision making, whether by individuals or governments. Adoption is a visceral for any country as diverse as this one, but surely we must have the courage of our convictions. It seems bizarre to celebrate some elements of diversity, for example, the growth in the mixed raced population in the UK, while actively discouraging another way of creating that very diversity which we celebrate.