It seems like hardly a month goes by without a sensationalist headline about a white couple being denied a black baby or some internet clickbait from a worthy adopter who can see beyond the colour of their children. It's a topic than intrigues and beguiles.
There's a deep imprint of pragmatism stamped on every aspect of adoption. Of course, we're looking for the best solution, but in all reality by the time we get to consider the plan for adoption, the 'best' solution has long gone. We're actually looking to make the best with what we've got. Time frames, ages of children, sibling groups, disability, uncertain pasts and uncertain futures all impact on the decisions that are made in relation to the best outcomes for children who wait for adoptive parents. I understand all of that, but the issue that keeps me and the media in a state of flux is the issue of race and more to the point of transracial adoption and does it matter?
For our family, it was a set of circumstances that led us to be parents of children of a different colour to us. It's something that we live with daily. We never go out as a family without me being aware of our difference and that we, at the very least, demand an explanation. Of course, nobody ever asks, well maybe occasionally, but people are curious and a black child holding the hands of two white adults walking down the street at the least piques people's interests. It's tempting to say love is colour blind and that it doesn't matter - a glib answer to a tricky issue. As a good parent I have to see colour and, like it or not, I have to see that it does matter. I wish it didn't but that is the reality of the world I inhabit, the fact as a white middle class man I've never experienced racism or prejudice, is a poor excuse for not knowing that the world will look at my black daughter very differently. As she grows into a young woman, labels and stereotypes will stick pretty easily to her.
White parents raising black or minority ethnic children is an emotive issue, for all. In the 1970s the National Association Black Social Workers described the practice of placing black children in white homes as a, 'peculiar form of genocide'. At the other end of the spectrum is Michael Gove, the then Education Secretary, describing an adoptive child finding a racial match as a 'bonus'. With my pragmatic hat on I believe that the truth lies between these two positions, that with preparation and support tied to thoughtful, sensitive and robust parenting we can navigate this challenge. However, I would prefer that we did not have to.
It's an area of uncertainty; we record the ethnicity of the children waiting for adoptive parents but not of the parents looking for children. We note that those children wait on up to 300 days longer but having removed the duty to consider ethnicity in matching children with parents, why does it remain longer? Prior to the law being changed to remove the need for adoption agencies to consider the ethnicity of children when matching, it was believed 70% of the delays were due to the challenges of finding matches. Is it as simple that practitioners are still nervous about transracial adoption? Of course knowing the ethnicity of the adopters we have waiting would help. The fact that we do not record the colour of adopters or the racial matches when children are placed for adoption reinforced the idea that it doesn't matter. Policy downplays the significance of racial matching but on the ground there must be a mismatch with practice. Is there still an anxiety about transracial adoption?
I understand that anxiety, I live with it. To raise a child that's a different colour to you is a challenge and asks more of parents. Issues of identity are core to adoption and rather than being outworked in private, they're played out in public when parents and child don't share the same skin colour. The focus of this debate is 'if' parents should raise children of a different colour to them. I think that debate is age old and plays out the essence of our society's intrigue with adoption in public for those families that walk that path. I'd much prefer that the debate moved onto 'how' we raise children of a different colour to our own, equipping them to live in a far from perfect world.