The Blog

'Race' and Adoption Crusades in 21st Century Britain

The 'race' and adoption reforms put forward by Michael Gove, secretary of state for education, in England are undoubtedly an ideological crusade - not unlike the ideology around the elimination of religion in the former Soviet Union.

The 'race' and adoption reforms put forward by Michael Gove, secretary of state for education, in England are undoubtedly an ideological crusade - not unlike the ideology around the elimination of religion in the former Soviet Union.

Adoption has traditionally been about 'matching' to help children feel a sense of connection and belonging to their adoptive families. In today's multicultural Britain, there is unease with difference and diversity in some quarters. And the adoption reform in its elimination of 'ethnicity' is a classic example of this.

The Children and Families Bill which seeks to reform adoption process and practice in England had its first reading last week. In the run up to this bill and even after the first reading last Monday, the government's mouthpiece, Martin Narey continued to insist that race matters in adoption and that the government were removing a ban on transracial adoption. He was challenged by many in the social media outlet Twitter, to explain in what way race matters in the reforms; and why he believes there is a ban on transracial adoption when no ban exists. Plenty of white families adopt minority ethnic children and of course this would not happen if there were a ban on such placements. Needless to say, there was a dissonance in Narey's media message and the actual reality of the newly drafted bill.

Interestingly, the truth was more revealing but it did not come from Narey's mouth who had clearly vowed to serve his masters to continue to mislead the public. A recent House of Lords select committee on adoption legislation concluded that "to remove mention of religion, race, culture and language altogether will run the risk of these important factors of identity being neglected in matching decisions". They also suggested that if "due consideration" was to be removed from the statute then the welfare checklist which includes age and gender should be extended to include "religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background". Rather tellingly, the proposed government legislation has obliterated 'religion, language, and ethnicity' to oblivion. The Gove adoption crusade is so perversely obsessed with the elimination of ethnicity that it cannot stomach any reference to the importance of this in an adopted child's life.

Research evidence from the USA reveals that almost 20 years of colour-blind adoption policies have achieved little for the most vulnerable black children in public care. Campaigners there are seeking to reverse such laws. In the words of Adam Pertman, Chief Executive, Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute in the USA - "Based on our research, I feel strongly that Britain should NOT follow our model".

A plethora of research evidence documents the importance of good racial and ethnic socialisation experiences to enable children to develop a healthy racial and ethnic identity, and to be able to cope with racial discrimination in societies where they are a minority and where race continues to blight life chances. The extent to which adoptive families can help support such children depends on a range of factors including their own experiences and understanding of the pernicious effects of racism and their ability to inculcate a healthy regard for the child's ethnic identity. Current adoption laws take into consideration how potential adoptive families will address these issues. Many child welfare organizations and professionals recognize the importance of ethnicity and wish to retain this emphasis.

Gove's race and adoption crusade however is very much in line with his other thinking on matters of education for instance where he wishes to take us all to some imagined era where his sense of history and society should prevail. Perhaps, Gove hopes that by wiping ethnicity from the legal statute, he can take England to some promised land.

As a society, whilst Britain has changed from the days of blatant and ugly racism depicted in the 1960s 'No Blacks, No Irish, No Dogs' phenomenon, it is far from a post-race utopia in which race no longer matters. Gove's political and ideological Children and Families Bill is not in the 'best interests' of vulnerable minority children and is a retrograde step for British society and the role it plays in the international arena in tolerance and human rights.

For a more nuanced analysis, read this