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Why are we still waiting

NO CHANGE: Black children less likely to be adopted by black families. Madonna, pictured here with daughter Mercy

ADOPTION AND fostering is a hot topic with the government right now. David Cameron announced plans to improve the care service last year by reducing chronic delays, introducing a national register and loosening strict rules on matching children with parents of the same ethnicity.

A year later Cameron has had very little to say on the subject while central government and local authorities talk it out amongst themselves, in debates and committee meetings in the House of Commons and House of Lords. But while the talking is going on, there are 67,050 children in care – 16 per cent being black and mixed race kids although black and mixed race people make up just over three per cent of England’s population. In London, the number skyrockets to a shocking 46 per cent.

Out of all races, black children are highly overrepresented in care, but they are also three times less likely to be adopted. The stats point to nothing short of an epidemic for our children in the care system and that is probably the main factor behind Cameron’s and the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove’s hasty plans to make a law that states that ethnicity shouldn’t take precedence when fostering or adopting.

While I agree that something must be done, and quickly, I do not think that removing the requirements of matching children to their prospective parents is where the problem lies. I have written many articles about adoption in this paper and discussed the chronic delays in the system and when doing my research I realised that one thing is certain, the proposed solutions are not simple.

I have previously argued that there are more than enough black families in the UK to cover the 10,470 black and mixed race children in the system, but what is becoming painfully apparent is that there are black families coming forward but for one reason or another they are not being given the chance to adopt.

This situation has bewildered adoption and fostering campaigner Francesca Polini, who set up the campaign, Adopt A Better Way, which seeks to change the adoptive services, get children placed with loving families as soon as possible and help prospective parents who cannot traverse the often confusing care system.

She admitted to The Voice that she doesn’t understand why black families are being overlooked as prospective adopters, but one thing she is certain of is that the old system does not work.

“This situation is contradictory because you have the government saying they need more black families to come forward and then I have people calling me up and saying they have come forward but they were told there were no children available. And I don’t understand why that is happening,” said the former Global Communications Director for Greenpeace.

“I think there is an engrained anti-adoption culture in many councils in the UK unfortunately, there is an even stronger one in the family court, which ultimately makes the decision, irrelevant to what social services and councils say,” she contended.

When Polini talks about an anti-adoption culture, she means that social services and the family courts are more inclined to try to keep a child with a family, the famous moniker of blood being thicker than water applying here and we can see the benefit of that, no one wants to break up a family and if the courts can provide a speedy reunion with parent and child, it is surely the best result. However, that still doesn’t answer why there are seemingly unbreakable barriers for people from the community who want to adopt but get nothing but red tape.

I previously tried to ?nd out just how many black people have been able and are willing to adopt, but was unable to obtain these statistics or get a reply from the leading adoption and fostering membership association in the country, and the Department for Education.

One major barrier to adoption is the inability to cross borough adopt, which Polini experienced firsthand.

“I went to an adoption drive where 100 families turned up and there was absolutely nothing wrong with them, but only one family was taken on because they only had one child to place.
Meanwhile in the neighbouring council there were 100 kids and no parents going forward,” explained the mother of two.

NO CHANGE: Black children less likely to be adopted by black families

“I’m not a big fan of centralising things, but there must be a way where we can adopt across boroughs, these are families waiting to happen but they are not allowed because of bureaucracy. Last year 22,000 parents were not taken on to adopt, how can that happen?

“I’m not saying they were all perfect, but there were certainly enough so that if only 50 per cent of the parents were taken, 10,000 children could have had a loving and stable home. But they were denied that chance based on crazy rules and I find that heartbreaking,” Polini argued.

Another factor put forward by Polini as contributing to the sluggish delay is money. Although Polini admits that she is not one for conspiracy theories, she does believe that many councils are in favour of international adoption because it brings in more funding from the government.

After unsuccessfully applying to becoming adoptive parents in the UK Polini and her husband went to Mexico and adopted their two children Gaia and Luca.

“We were turned down here over the phone because they weren’t taking on any white applicants. But the council said we could go abroad. I found out that if you adopt from abroad the council get £5,000 to £10,000 an inter-country adoption for a social worker, while with the local and domestic adoptions they don’t get any money at all and I can’t help thinking that that is the reason why it is so difficult.”

If Polini is right, the council’s and governments urgent calls for reforms are no more than a business tactic in a bid to save or make money and not in the best interest of the child.

But perhaps I am being too harsh, adoption and fostering in this country is difficult, at best. Social services do not have an easy job but putting the failure of the system down to race and cultural background restrictions show that the coalition is seriously underestimating the enormity of the problem. An average of a thousand children go into care every month and in 95 per cent of cases youngsters older than six will remain in the foster care system until they are adults at the costs of £2 billion a year.

In an ideal world children would be matched with parents of the same ethnicity quickly and smoothly, as long as they are good parents, but sometimes that is not possible. However, keeping children in the system should only be the very last resort (something that Michael Gove, David Cameron and I seem to be in agreement).

It is also a sentiment shared by 23-year-old Ashley John-Baptiste, former member of X Factor group The Risk. From the age of two, he was placed in care and remained there until adulthood.

The singer took part in the BBC documentary, Care Home Kids: Looking for Love and knows all too well what it is like to be black growing up in care. He agreed that race could affect a child in care, for many different reasons.

“I do think sometimes race affects how desirable you are to adopt. Often parents want a child who is the same race as the family. When I did my documentary with the BBC, the one girl who got adopted was a very cute, young white girl, and I kind of thought how great would it be if a family had adopted a 15-year-old black guy, but it didn’t happen.”

Like many people in a new environment you want to feel welcome and at one with your surroundings and this is no different for a child in care.

“Embracing the child’s culture is important,” explained John-Baptiste. “When you move to a new home you feel like your whole world has been dislocated and you do feel that the family should make an effort to give you a sense of self.”

“Fundamentally a child should feel like they can be themselves at home and if that takes cultural awareness from the family then it should be done; however, I do think that foster children should be introduced to new worlds that can develop them.”

There is no easy fix for the care system, but there are people who are devoting their lives to making the changes necessary to ensure all children have a loving and comfortable home. Whilst the government consistently misses the point, the main goal for parliament and parents alike is to build stable and happy homes, and we as a community can help by coming forward showing that we are willing to raise our children.

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