Jonathan Pearce, CEO of Adoption UK
Jonathan Pearce, CEO of Adoption UK Adoption UK

Anyone following the government's plans to speed up the adoption process could be forgiven for believing from some of the press coverage of the issue that it is currently illegal for white parents to adopt black children (and vice versa) thanks to old fashioned multicultural rules for local authorities.

While this is not true it is true that some potential adopters are prevented from adopting on the grounds that they have a different skin colour to that of the child they wish to adopt.

Such a situation would sound perfectly normal in Apartheid South Africa, Segregationist America or perhaps in India in the Raj where the British population held a successful campaign in the 19th century to ensure that no Indian judge had the right to try a white subject. Yet it is also be present in modern, multicultural Britain.

Jonathan Pearce, CEO of Adoption UK, a charity that provides support to adoptive parents, is quick to suggest that much of the media outrage on this subject is overblown but admits hostility to transracial adoption is a problem.

Speaking to International Business Times UK, Pearce said that while there is a lot of poor practice in the adoption system there is also plenty of good practice, with an estimated two thirds of adoptive parents getting a "good or reasonable service" when approaching adoption agencies.

However that still leaves around a third of potential adopters not getting a "good or reasonable service", usually for totally avoidable reasons.

According to Pearce, "We have many adopters who have to go to numerous agencies - five, six, 10 in some cases - before they even get someone to come and see their application. They can be rebuffed or turned away sometimes for no particular reason at all - what you might call poor customer service."

The people most likely to face such a rebuffal are those who "don't fit the norm of reasonably well off married couples," such as singles and unmarried or homosexual couples. Being the wrong race can also play a part in being turned away at the door.

On the issue of race and adoption Pearce says that the law is "very clear" on transracial adoption and has been at least since the 1990's. There is no ban on transracial adoption.

"There is a list of considerations in recruiting a parent and matching a child with those parents and one of them is race, ethnicity, culture and so on. That's an important factor to try and address in recruiting and matching a child with the right parents - but it is only one factor".

So while race is important in matching adoptive parents to children - there is apparently research suggesting that children of a different race or culture to their adoptive parents can struggle more than they otherwise might - it is not the make or break factor as far as the law is concerned.

Indeed "a lot of adoption agencies are observing best practice in this area," says Pearce.

"But there are pockets of the country where some local authorities take a very hard line or a restrictive view on finding a very close racial and ethnic match."

Such hardliner local authorities are more likely to be found in parts of London and other big cities with large minority populations such as Birmingham and Manchester and have been known to turn couples away solely on the grounds that a child that matched their ethnicities could not be found.

When asked if this constituted a form of racism Pearce described it as "a misplaced understanding of race and ethnicity and the role it plays" but conceded that it could be construed as such.

Ultimately Pearce argues that while racial considerations are "important" they should not be used to keep children in care, many of whom have suffered severe abuse and neglect, any longer than is necessary.

On average children in the care system remain there for over two years, during which time they can be passed around different foster carers with a frequency that prevents already disadvantaged children from experiencing the kind of stability they could seriously benefit from.

There is a shortage of foster carers and adopters, with only around five per cent of children in care were adopted last year. It would therefore seem sensible for the government to at least look at ways of making adoption easier and to ensure that, among other things, "a misplaced understanding of race" does not deprive children of the love and stability that adoptive parents can provide.