I sacrificed myself this morning, for the greater good and watched Sunday Morning Live on BBC1. It is a shouty affair which is not conducive to a slow and sleepy Sunday morning but they were having a debate about trans-racial adoption and so I thought it my duty to take a look. There were three people on the stage: a shouty American woman, a not too shouty black man and Derek Hatton. The referee was the BBC newsreader Susanna Reid.
There were lots of opinions, most from within the studio and some beamed in skype-style. As with most BBC debates, no matter the complexity of the issue, there had to be two opposing sides and the twain was never going to meet. On the liberal and mainly white side of the discussion was the view that adoption should be ‘colour blind’ and that children from ethnic minorities ‘languishing’ (let’s please stop using this word) in care should be available for adoption by white parents. On the opposite side of the debate was the view that white parents may not understand the cultural and ethnic issues of raising a white child, not least the racism which they would be likely to encounter.
A good part of me believes that it is generally better for a child to be adopted, rather than brought up in the care system. I also believe that it can be in a child’s best interests to be adopted by a couple of a different ethnic background, rather than left in the care system. But a rush for white singles or couples to adopt children of a different ethnicity leaves me feeling uneasy, mainly because, with all these thorny, complex issues IT IS NOT THAT EASY.
The (mainly) white debaters on the show claimed that the UK is much changed over the past 25 years and that our society is not riddled with the same levels of racism as it once was. This was not confirmed by the black speakers, who had themselves grown up in care. And who are white people to tell black people that racism has diminished?
As is usual in a debate about adoption, everyone is an expert, whether or not they have any experience of the subject. And as is also usual, the phrase ‘a loving family’ was passed around like a fluffy rabbit at a petting zoo. It is a common misconception that all adopted children really need is ‘a loving family’. In reality raising children who have experienced neglect and abuse (as most children in care have) is exceptionally difficult and requires a level of professionalism not demanded of most parents of biological children. It is also a misconception that Britain is a multi-cultural country: large parts of it may be, but not here in Mudtropolis where we live. If a non-white child grew up here, they would not see anyone who looked remotely like them from one day to the next. And just ask Barack Obama how that would feel.
Most surprisingly it was left to Derek Hatton to speak some words of sense ‘all I’m saying’ he said, ’is not every white person is fit to adopt a black child, but more could.’
Really like your analysis of this. Came upon your site while double checking the details of that spat for something I’m writing. My own observation, having spent the last year learning a great deal about the care system in my capacity as a ghostwriter, is that if children are adopted very young they have less emotional issues/challenging behaviours that need managing, but it’s the system itself that leaves them languishing in care (in my experience, languish is precisely the right word!) and creates the abandonment and attachment problens they display in later life. A white family will almost always be better than serial care in children’s homes/foster homes. I also take issue with the articulate skype woman who spoke very politically and eloquently on the subject, and intimated that inter-racial adoption is generally not a Good Thing. I think she also intimated that it was ‘identity theft’. I’m sorry but, a) I don’t get this – it was being given up by her biological parents that removed her identity and b) it’s precisely because she was adopted by those middle class’ thieves’, I suspect, that she is able to speak articulately – if way too subjectively – on the subject. She doesn’t know what might have happened to her had she remained in care homes for her childhood but statistically it’s far less likely that she’d even be there being so negative about adoption in these circumstances.
Yes, in utopia, you would be able to match race, but we do not live in utopia and love/boundaries/continuity of care and all those other dreary staples are WAY more important, in terms of social outcome, than a colour match.
Anyway, nice to connect!
Yes, I absolutely agree, the outcomes for adopted children are far better than those for children in care, who often have to suffer many broken placements and attachments. The sad fact is that these children are challenging to parent, even when they have been removed from their birth families as babies. I am still unsettled by this sudden battle cry though, as potential adoptive parents have got to be up to the job. I have heard anecdotally although I’m not sure whether it has been measured accurately, that 30% of domestic adoptions break down, 30% bump along unsatisfactorily and 30% are successful. If this is true, it is a scandal and needs to be examined in more detail.
Thank you so much for reading my post. I am writing a memoir about the experience of adopting which my agent has put out to publishers. So far they like it, but worry that it doesn’t have enough commercial appeal. Any advice?
I check for your blog every week. My job takes me regularly to Local Authorities and sometimes touches on the needs of children in care, and I have found your blog a very valuable insight into your experience as an adoptive parent. Thank you for your openness. Work aside, and as a parent of two children, I enjoy reading your anecdotes and identify with many of them (from cupcakes to The Simpsons). Keep on blogging.