Children need a safe and loving home. When biological families are unable to provide it, looked-after children turn to the state to find one for them. Here, Grace Gomez of Parents and Children Together (PACT) explains the race factor that means black children, particularly, face greater barriers than others.
It’s a reality that black children are disproportionately represented in our care system. While black ethnic groups make up 3% of the general population, they make up roughly 7% of looked after children.
Black children also wait longer to find their adoptive family, especially black boys. Nearly a quarter of the children waiting more than 18 months for a 'forever family' are black and minority ethnic (BME). This is partly because, where possible, social workers will try and place children with adoptive parents who reflect their race, culture and ethnicity. There is a shortage of BME adopters and therefore those who are approved to adopt have a lot of choice of to which child/children they can adopt. It is not clear why, but our experience shows that many adopters have a preference for girls.
The delay in finding suitable families for children is a huge concern for the government, and society in general. Article 20 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that “Children who cannot be looked after by their own family have a right to special care and must be looked after properly, by people who respect their ethnic group, religion, culture and language”.
All children waiting for adoption are likely to experience delay and instability but BME children also have to confront the issue of identity - their ethnicity, their culture and maybe their language. This can impact on their personal relationships, their education and their future as a parent themselves.
Above all, children must be placed in a loving, safe and secure home. Of course it would be an advantage if they are placed with families who can reflect their cultural identity, but that doesn’t always have to be the case. What is important is that parents have a deep understanding of the child’s heritage and a willingness to promote it.
There is evidence that positive racial and ethnic experiences contribute to the psychological adjustment of transracial adoptees. DeBerry et al (1996) and Yoon (2001), for example found that racial ethnic identity, as measured principally by ethnic pride, was related positively to psychological adjustment in the studies of African American and Korean transracial adolescent, adoptees in the Unites States. Yoon also found that Korean adolescent adoptees whose parents actively promoted their children’s ethnic cultures, had more positive racial/ethnic identity development, and in turn better psychologic adjustment
All children who have been adopted will need help to understand their adoption ‘story’ and the reason why they are placed for adoption as it is important that they grow up with a positive sense of their identity. Part of this will be their cultural and racial identity and growing up with parents who reflect this and/or understand it can help their child feel acceptance and a sense of pride of their background. In addition, these parents are more able to recognise and support their children if/when they experience discrimination.
At PACT we are looking for adopters from any walk of life. Their age, ethnicity, sexuality and whether they are in a relationship or not is no barrier. Many of the children waiting are in sibling groups so we particularly welcome families who are able to adopt two, or even three children.
Marcia, 44, and her husband Ian, 46, adopted sisters Summer* and Rachel* through PACT in October 2015. Summer was just under two-and-a-half years old and Rachel was 16 months old.
Marcia said she felt that identity should be given careful consideration when matching children with adoptive parents. Her girls now attend a local school where there is a mix of cultures and ethnicities.
“I am black and grew up in this county but I went to a school where I was one of only four black children and I vividly remember feeling that there is no-one else here who looks like me, which is not nice especially when you're 11 or 12 and you don't want to be different from your friends.
“My parents were really proud of who they are and where they came from, and they raised us in a way that made identity important so very quickly I learned to be proud of who I was.
“I just think that in their lives my girls will have 101 extra things to deal with because they are adopted so if issues over identity can be minimised, then that can only be a positive thing. For me I am absolutely determined to do what I can to make my girls proud of who they are, and I know I can help them with that.
“The cultural match of our girls was important for us. We are both Black Caribbean and we match the ethnic background of our girls. This means that their culture and heritage is naturally inculcated at home and within everything we do every day.
Parents And Children Together (PACT) is a long established adoption charity that finds, assess and approves people to become adoptive parents. We are looking people from all sorts of backgrounds to become a forever family for the children waiting in care.
If you’d like to find out more about BME adoption, download the guide on the PACT website.
*Names have been changed to protect identity
PACT tweets here: @PACTCHARITY