Friday 27 June 2014

Transracial Adoption

I've wanted to write this blog about transracial adoption for a while and to be honest I've struggled. It is an issue that is pertinent to us as a family as we are not all white. We represent at least three continents between us as a family.

I'm writing as no expert, with a limited understanding from my perspective only. I have mulled this issue over, read books and articles, written essays, talked to anyone who would speak to me and still find it a challenging issue.

When I reflect on my family and the issue of race, ethnicity and identity, I question my ability to prepare my children for a life where they may encounter racism or discrimination. Where they may stand out in a crowd; Where they cannot hide.
When we go out as a whole family we are clearly not ‘normal’, we live in semi rural north England and do not blend in. Fortunately, what people think of us is of no consequence and those who know us, well, they know us and the rest can guess, presume or not give it a thought. Some ask and we take no offence. 
But we do not blend in. 

New legislation removes the need to consider the race of the child when matching for adoption. Though I do not consider this change in the law as an act of cultural and ethnic ignorance or worse*,  I do note it was approved by predominantly white middle/upper class men. I wonder if there's a lack of understanding of the significance that race and ethnicity contribute to identity and consequently the significance of identity to adoptees and adopters.

For adoptees identity can be complex, feeling different,  struggling with fitting in and questioning their place within adopted families. At a time when many young people want to blend in, they don't and an aspect of their identity is publicly displayed.
For transracial adopters their identity as parents may also be out of their control, altered by the lack of anonymity and confidentiality.

The debate in the media is often generalised and simplified. With the issue boiled down to the simple question: Is it better to be brought up by a family with different colour skin than to remain with foster carer?

Yes? No? is that a fair question or a realistic scenario? Does it over simplify the issue? Does it miss the point.

I’d prefer not to answer that question because to do so we reduce children, adoptive parents and foster carers to stereotypes. 

Underlying all of this is the fact that Black, Asian or minority ethnicity children are over represented in the care system and Black, Asian or minority ethnicity prospective adopters are under represented.

But that is perhaps a harder question to ask. Way above my pay grade.

I believe Social Workers need to be able to take each case as they find it; to consider all the factors appropriately and not be ruled by popularism, pragmatism, dogma or politics. Rather to respond to individuals rather than comply blindly with policy. To sometimes say 'yes' to matches and sometimes say 'no' to matches. 

Taking that choice away makes me feel uncomfortable but that is where we are.

I could go on, however I won't.

* In 1972 the North American Association of Black Social Workers described transracial adoptions as “a particular form of genocide".


  1. Wow. Great post.
    Really tough stuff to think about.
    Should kids ever be given to same sex adopters? They will stand out in public. Often there will be a presumption they're adopted so they won't necessarily get to choose whether to disclose that.
    But they will be loved, treasured even. They will be cared for well. They will get a sense of belonging. They will have a family that's forever.
    I'm wondering if your girls have ever disclosed being picked on or feeling ashamed at times of having white parents. My girls have both come home saying that so and so has said such and such about their family.
    Every time, we've validated how tough that must be but made no apology any of it. I guess deep down, I have faith in my children to work it out, to find their way forward, to find their own solutions.
    But I am very careful to keep the conversation open because I never want any of this stuff kept secret. I don't want my own discomfort to prevent them from telling me that so and so said that it's weird to have two mums, or that it's wrong to have two mums.
    My personal view is that it's absolutely right to allow children to be adopted by whoever seems the best out of everyone that wants them. In the world of adoption, the 'perfect family' boat sailed when the children were unable to stay with their birth parents. Get someone passionate and informed on the job as soon as possible.
    I'm probably wrong. I usually am. But it's what I think.

  2. but then again what is 'normal' anyway?

    1. We are own version of normal. It's the rest of you that are odd.

  3. I strongly agree with you about Social Workers taking each case as they find it - with transracial adoption, single-sex families, splitting sibling groups or not, single adopters, keeping on and on trying to find BF members who can have the child, keeping on and on giving BM chance after chance etc. etc. Protocol and policy always seem pale and weak compared to the realities faced by individuals. SWs must be continually informed about latest research and then allowed to let that research inform their practice as appropriate rather than having directives imposed from above. I believe my son's BM suffered terribly because of the policy of keeping children within the family where possible. I believe the failure of that policy in her case contributed to her ending up in a situation where she lost her own child. If she had been adopted as a toddler, how might things have turned out for her? We'll never know. It's tragedy upon tragedy.

    1. Great comments.
      Often popularism and dogma rule with blunt policies squashing the voiceless and vulnerable. As Social Workers we need to stand for the unique and the one offs.

  4. Our children are mixed race. They have the same birth parents but they have very different coloured skin and hair from each other and us! We are freckly middle class white folk but we do live in a very multicultural area. I'm sure that helps a bit. The transracial part of being a family is, at present anyway, one of the smaller challenges we face. In the end, we are lucky to have each other. If adoption is OK, then transracial adoption is OK!

    1. Part of what I didn't say was in relation to this, though several of my children have a similar genetic mix though they vary wildly in physical appearance, which adds to people's curiosity. At one point one of my children was the only black child (in appearance) in a school of 430. A little challenging for her and the school. As young children I think identity is linked to us as parents. However, we have yet to reach the teens when identity becomes more significant and a crucial part of moving into adulthood.

  5. I agree but I vexed for years, literally, years before I could resolve that I was their best option in the circumstances. I often feel out of my depth having no experience of racism. But we're doing ok and I have good friends of all manner of race and ethnicity that support us.

  6. I set out to be - and am - a transracial adopter but as a single parent living in a multi ethnic and multicultural city we blend in and here nobody gives us a second thought. However I am not sure this will always be the case and I'm all too aware of the difficulties this might raise for us. I strongly agree with your summary that SWs need to be able to make decisions on matching on a case by case basis - this is such a complex issue! Thanks for your thought provoking post

  7. Thank you for your comments.
    Circumstances led us into being transracial adopters and I struggled to reconcile it within our context. I have no regrets and I believe it to have been in their best interests, though not without challenges.