UK government proposals to make it easier for would-be parents to adopt children from different cultural or racial backgrounds, have been substantively challenged by a new report which says such differences can have a profoundly negative impact on ethnic children who are then adopted by white parents.
A three year study by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), examined the experiences of 72 Chinese orphans who arrived from Hong Kong in the 1960s and were adopted by mainly white British parents.
In the study, which is the first to look at the long-term impact of interracial adoption in Britain, former orphans were asked to talk about their experiences from childhood through to middle age.
According to The Guardian, common feedback included “varying levels of racism, prejudice and feelings of belonging and difference within their adoptive families and wider communities.”
Many of the women also, “felt alienated” and “struggled with conflicts of dual/multiple identities and had experienced race-based mistreatment.”
For some, childhood and adolescence were particularly traumatic, with 54% saying they “felt uncomfortable” after comments about how different they looked from their adoptive family were made.
Around three-quarters of those studied said they had wanted to look less Chinese as they grew up, while a smaller figure said “race-based bullying” and discrimination “had a substantial negative impact on their well-being.”
The common thread running throughout the study was the issue of ethnicity, and how much race and culture impacted the former orphans’ lives.
Other findings identified the part played by the adoptive family’s sensitivity and ability to help the orphans cope with the issues of difference.
The present conservative UK government is committed to reforming the adoption process, with Education secretary Michael Gove saying he hopes to put an end to what he describes as the “misguided” belief that all children must be matched with parents of the same race. [Full speech at PoliticsHome]
As a result, campaigners who applaud the government’s attempts to speed up the adoption process, remain deeply concerned about what they perceive as attempts to ignore the importance of race and culture in mixed race adoption.
John Simmonds, director of policy, research and development at the BAAF, said the findings suggested that the government should apply the brakes on any planned adoption legislation that ignores racial/cultural considerations.
Simmonds also worries that present moves to sideline race stem from the UK prime minister David Cameron’s criticism of “state multiculturalism.”
In response, Simmonds says:
“The emphasis is on being British, that multiculturalism is dead. It would be quite wrong to ignore these issues of difference and the way people experience difference in society, the positive recognition of the importance of identity in a richer way.”
“If the government has the view that a child being adopted from a different country, religion, culture, language is a marginal issue that becomes an irrelevance over the course of time given the benefits of adoption, then that is not what this study has said.”
Professor Alan Rushton of King’s College London added:
“The government needs to take notice of these findings on the significance of ethnicity, so that the wording of the proposed adoption legislation does not seem to downplay its importance.”
Some believe, the government’s plans to dilute ethnicity as part of the adoption process might, in part, be guided by politics.
Gove — who was himself adopted at four months, has accused social workers of condemning black and Asian children to a life in care rather than let white couples adopt them — claims “leftwing prescriptions are denying children the love they need.”
But Julia Feast, the BAAF’s policy, research and development consultant, said it was crucial that the study was analyzed objectively away from politics.
“They [the government] are basing it on adopters saying there are all these children languishing in care and rather than think about what research has been done in this country regarding the outcomes of trans-racial adoption they are going by the voice of prospective parents who think that love will be enough.”
Ash Chand of the NSPCC said: “Ethnicity, culture, language and religion help to fully form a child’s identity. These aspects of identity should be considered when matching suitable adoptive parents with children in care.”
The UK Department for Education‘s stated position is as follows:
“We are changing the law to ensure black and minority ethnic children – who take on average a year longer to be adopted than white children – are not left waiting in care any longer than necessary. We want them to be with adoptive families where they can thrive and realise their full potential.”