Over the past 50 years, adoption has radically changed from a service that places White ‘relinquished’ babies with White, childless, married, heterosexual couples. Instead, the overwhelming majority of adoptions are of children who are in the care of local authorities, and who have experienced harm or neglect and prospective adopters are drawn from a wide range of backgrounds and include single people, un/married LGBTQ and straight couples.

My interest in adoption is long standing, as prior to working in higher education, I was a social worker recruiting and assessing prospective adopters to provide ‘forever homes” for children who were considered ‘harder to place’. Yet one only has to watch TV programmes such as ‘Long Lost Family’ or read recent news reports about forced adoptions to recognise why child adoption remains a highly emotive and controversial subject. However, its adoption’s articulation with issues of race and ethnicity that have proven to be most controversial.

In the 1960s Black children were considered unadoptable and transracial adoption (TRA) was encouraged to prevent children from staying in long-term foster or residential care. Though as the testimonies of some transracially adopted adults were heard, the ability of TRA to provide children with positive racial/ethnic identities and a sense of belonging was challenged. Since the 1980’s good practice has considered that Black children should, where possible, be placed in families that reflect their racial and cultural backgrounds. This was incorporated in legislation and reflected Article 20 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that “Children who cannot be looked after by their own family have a right to special care and must be looked after properly, by people who respect their ethnic group, religion, culture and language”.

My PhD research has revisited some of these issues, as following concerns that Black children were waiting longer to be adopted, the government, in 2014, removed the requirement to consider issues of race and ethnicity when placing children for adoption. Although legislation did not require social workers to place children within ethnically matched placements, both government and media perceptions argued that social workers were ‘obsessive’ about ethnic matching (though this was not borne out by my research).

Recently I participated in a Transatlantic Summit “Ending Racial Disparity in Adoption”, hosted by Krish Kandian Chair of the Government’s Adoption and Special Guardianship Leadership Board. The event was introduced by Vicky Ford MP - Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families and Jooyeun Chang - Acting Assistant Secretary, Administration for Children and Families in the Biden administration. Over 100 adopters, adopters, policy makers, practitioners and academics from the UK and US gathered to share good practice to improve the outcomes of Black children as data indicates that children are disproportionally represented in child welfare.

  • White children were less likely to be in care and more likely to be adopted compared with their share of the population of all under-18 year olds
  • Children of mixed race were more likely to be looked after and more likely to be adopted.
  • Black children were more likely to be in care and less likely to be adopted.
  • Asian children were less likely to be in care and less likely to be adopted

The reasons for such disparities are multi-layered and research has revealed a complex intersection of poverty, disadvantage and racism that influence children’s care experiences. It is also known that there are barriers that prevent sufficient people from minority ethnic communities from becoming adoptive parents. Since undertaking my PhD research, I have been working with local adoption agencies to consider the impact of race and ethnicity within their practices and as race still matters for children who need adoptive placements.

Lorraine Agu

Head of Subject / School Of Health

Lorraine is a registered social worker and as Head of Social Subject. She provides operational and strategic leadership for the Social and Community Studies group within the School of Health.

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