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Study warns against ignoring ethnicity in adoption process

MOTHERHOOD: Madonna holding her adopted Malian child

CHILDREN OF different ethnicity and culture to their adopted parents face a significant chance of identity problems in childhood and adult life, according to a recent study by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF).

The report, which investigated how 72 women have fared in life since they were adopted in the 1960s as orphans from Hong Kong by British families, highlights the racial and cultural complexities of inter-country adoption. Furthermore, the research’s findings offer a counter-argument against government plans to reform adoption laws, which seek to simplify the process for potential parents trying to adopt.

The study, titled: Adversity, Adoption and Afterwards: a mid-life follow- up of women adopted from Hong Kong, claims to make six key findings. Among them are “virtually” all the women interviewed experienced some form of racism or prejudice, and that chances of mid-life mental health problems significantly decrease when children are adopted from a caring orphanage.

Professor Alan Rushton, co-author of the research, said the study offers rare insight into long-term outcomes of adoption. “We have increasing amounts of information about the childhood and adolescent outcomes of orphanage care but are still in the dark about the longer-term consequences”, he said.

“This study is perhaps a unique example of testing the links between early deprivation, international adoption and outcomes in midlife.

“Contrary to expectations, the psychological outcomes were found to be commensurate with matched groups of adopted and non-adopted women born in the UK. Such findings need to be taken into account in theories of lifespan development”, Rushton added.

John Simmonds, BAAF’s director of policy, research and development, cited the findings to urge the government to be more cautious when considering ethnicity in its adoption legislation.

“If the government has the view that a child being adopted from a different country, religion, culture, language, is a marginal issue that becomes an irrelevance over the course of time given the benefits of adoption, then that is not what this study has said”, he told The Observer.

BAAF’s interracial adoption expert, Savita de Souza, told The Voice more attention needs to be devoted to ethnicity, which incorporates race, language, culture and religion, while not forgetting to create policies that encourage more people to adopt.

“BAAF is not saying a white family cannot adopt a black child – they can, and some have done a very good job. But they have to be able to help children and young people face the challenges ahead, particularly around racism and bullying,” de Souza said.

“The government should really not be focussing on ethnicity, because they think by striking out ethnicity [as a factor in the adoption process] it will be the solution. But it’s not the solution because it hasn’t worked in America where it’s illegal to consider race in the placement of an African-American child.

“We need to provide incentives, particularly in this economic climate where there are lots of austerity measures, to encourage people to come forward to adopt,” she added.

De Souza used the situation of black boys seeking parents to highlight the problem of insufficient adopter numbers in this country. “Nothing has changed in 30 to 40 years for black boys; nobody wants them, black people don’t want them, white people don’t want them.

“Black children wait three times longer than their white counterparts. And 20 per cent never find new homes,” she said.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "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.”

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