Strategies for success in cross-racial adoptions

Trans-racial adoption is now being encouraged due to the high number of ethnic minority children waiting to be matched with families. Julie Griffiths reports on how adoption groups are responding to this challenge

Trans-racial adoption is now being encouraged due to the high number of ethnic minority children waiting to be matched with families. Julie Griffiths reports on how adoption groups are responding to this challenge

Roughly every two weeks, voluntary adoption agency Coram places a child from an ethnic minority into adoption. About 60 children are helped into new families each year and half are from an ethnic minority or are mixed race.

Yet statistics suggest it is more difficult to place children from ethnic minority groups. Figures from the National Adoption Register show that, in 2008, 243 children from ethnic minorities were referred but there were only nine adopters.

It explains why government guidance, published last week, asks councils to make more use of voluntary adoption agencies.

One reason Coram enjoys such success is that, while it encourages ethnic minority adopters to come forward, the organisation also places children from minorities with white families. Coram’s head of adoption, Jeanne Kaniuk, says if there was a choice between two loving families, it would be sensible to place the child with the adopters who matched him or her ethnically. But the pool of adopters is smaller for children from ethnic minorities so the policy must be flexible.

“We can’t go for an ethnic match at any price,” says Kaniuk. “Age is the single biggest determinant to whether a child is adopted. So if we wait too long looking for a family, the chances of an adoption are reduced and you end up with a child who spends their whole childhood in care.”

So, white families must become an option. In the past, trans-racial adoption was more common, but for the adopted child who grew up as the only black face in a white family living in a white community, this could be isolating and difficult.

But approaches and techniques have been developed that help pave the way for trans-racial adoption and prepare families for possible pitfalls.

There is the obvious need to ensure white adopters have the right attitude towards diversity and inclusivity. Aside from this, social workers can help white adopters minimise any problems a child from a different ethnicity may have with their sense of identity or racism.

One strategy is to place such a child with parents who have links to the culture from which they have come. It is a way of ensuring the child is exposed to at least some aspects of their heritage, says Kaniuk. So, if a child has a Polish background but no Polish adopters are available, Coram would consider instead a family from another east European country.

Sometimes, the links are based on life experience rather than heritage.

“We had adopters who took on a part-Japanese child. The mother had lived and taught in Japan for several years,” Kaniuk adds.

If there are no existing connections with a culture, a white family can develop them through organisations, communities, faith groups, schools and so on. Holidays can be another way to make a link with a child’s heritage, but Kaniuk says the links ought to be a part of a family’s day-to-day life.

“A connection should not be a one-off experience,” she says. “Relationships are useful and these can be developed by living in a mixed area where children can find role models from a different community.”

It is particularly easy in urban settings where there is so much diversity.

St Francis’ Children’s Society, another voluntary adoption agency, recognises the need to support adopters of ethnic minority children, regardless of the family’s race. The charity’s Anancy Black Families Project has the dual purpose of not only recruiting families from minority groups to adopt and but also families and mentors to support ethnic minority children who have already been adopted.

Anancy community worker Rita Agbotse says all adopted children can experience feelings that they do not belong, but children from ethnic minorities tend to find it more difficult.

“The chances of them being with a foster parent who reflects their ethnicity is very low so they are struggling with their identity and who they are. It can be more confusing for them, especially those from a mixed background,” Agbotse says.

The society arranges several events each year especially for ethnic minority adopters and children. The most recent was an event organised around Black History Month to promote identity with culture and race and help build self-esteem. Agbotse says the events allow families to come together so children and parents can share experiences.

“They’re often going through the same sort of thing and find it easier to identify the challenges with each other than those who have not adopted,” she says. “It becomes a support network and they help each other.”

Questions to consider when assessing a trans-racial placement

Social workers placing a child from an ethnic minority with white parents need to consider factors that would not apply to other adoptions.

Social workers may need to consider their own race and think about how culturally competent they are to make a judgement on a family. As well as assessing the couple’s suitability – as they would for any adoption – professionals also need to look at a couple’s ability to meet a child’s racial, religious, cultural and linguistic needs.

The British Association for Fostering and Adoption (BAAF) recommends social workers ask about the following when making an assessment in a trans-racial adoption:

● Do the carers understand the effects of racism?

● How will they help the child build a strong, secure and resilient identity that can resist and challenge racism?

● Do the prospective adopters have an interest in the child’s culture?

● How will they promote his or her cultural and linguistic traditions?

● How will they develop the child’s racial and religious identity?

● How will they manage the conflicts and contradictions between a “black” and “white” perspective?

● How will they manage the differences between themselves and the child?

● How do the family think they will be viewed by their extended family, their friends, the school, their local community?

● How supportive will their family and friends be? What will they do if some are not?

Source: Black and minority ethnic perspectives advisory committee, BAAF

Tips for adopters

Adopters of a child from another ethnic group can take action to become a more culturally diverse family. This will help their child make links with his or her biological heritage. The British Association for Fostering and Adoption (BAAF) offers these tips for prospective adopters who want to be more culturally competent:

● Find out how to care for your child’s hair and skin.

● Learn the history or culture of your child’s birth family.

● Study your child’s birth language.

● Send your child to a racially diverse school.

● If it is an international adoption, travel to his or her birth country to obtain books, toys and other objects.

● Maintain contact with the child’s relatives.

● Have childcare providers, teachers, adults role models of same race/ethnicity as your child.

● Live in a racially diverse neighbourhood.

● Cook food from different countries.

● Maintain regular contact with people of same race/ethnicity.

● Expose your family to multi-cultural entertainment.

● Attend events by adoption organisations.

● Encourage your child to attend a support group for adoptees.

● Participate in events sponsored by your child’s birth ethnic group.

● Travel as a family to culturally significant places.

● Involve your family in ethnically diverse religions and social group activities.

Source: Black and minority ethnic perspectives advisory committee, BAAF

Special report on social work and ethnic minorities

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Reference Manual: Placement of children for adoption

This article is published in the 3 March 2011 edition of Community Care under the headline “We can’t go for an ethnic match at any price”

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