Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Mixed-race Adoption under the spotlight

Earlier this week, the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) published their results of a three-year study into mixed-race adoption placements.

The study focussed on the experiences of 72 Chinese orphans who arrived from Hong Kong in the 1960s, and who were adopted by (mainly white) British parents.

The study, the first of its kind to look at transracial adoption in Britain, asked the adoptees to talk about their experiences from childhood through to middle age.

Reported in The Guardian, common feedback included “varying levels of racism, prejudice and feelings of belonging and difference within their adoptive families and wider communities.

Many respondents 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.

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 news was not all grim:  one positive outcome of the study was that the adopted orphans tended to become more comfortable with their Chinese appearance as they matured.  Researchers also noted other positive patterns in comparison to other studies of both non-adopted and adopted women, with the former Hong Kong orphans exhibiting good levels of mental and physical health, educational achievement, positive family lives and relationships with adoptive families.

The publication of the study’s results could not be more timely.  The Coalition Government is blazing ahead with proposals to make it easier for prospective adopters to adopt children from different cultural or racial backgrounds.  Education Secretary, Michael Gove, has described as “misguided the belief that children must be matched with parents of the same ethnicity.

The 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.”

So, which view is correct?  As with all such issues, the right approach is not a binary one.  Of course children should not be left languishing in the care system whilst a search wears on for years for the absolute perfect match in terms of prospective adoptive parents.  But nor can the placement of some of the most vulnerable children ignore the importance of race and culture in mixed race adoption.  Ethnicity, culture and background help to form a young person’s identity.  It would be folly to ignore these features, as collateral damage in the rush to ensure that an adoption is concluded sooner rather than later.  The balance has to be struck between delay and ensuring that any proposed placement is the best one, taking account of the various aspects that go towards making up the child or young person affected.

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