Byline: by Antonia Hoyle
HER earliest childhood memories are as cherished as they are vivid. There were Saturday mornings digging potatoes in the allotment with her father, and the smell of sausages wafting from the barbecue during family holidays in Cornwall.
Lazy summer afternoons were spent playing in the garden with her three older siblings; family dinners were boisterous affairs; and birthday parties were celebrated with homemade cake.
Dawn Cousins grew up feeling loved and secure, and that her future was full of hope. At least she did until she was seven.
At that point, her idyllic life was snatched away when a social worker took her away from her picturesque Oxfordshire home.
Dawn was informed that despite the fact her parents Gina and Pete had fostered her from birth, they were unsuitable for raising her.
She spent the next six months in a children's home before being adopted by a couple who lived 50 miles away. She had to adapt to her different family, start a new school, and make new friends.
So what was the reason behind social services' drastic decision? Dawn's parents were not abusing her nor were they embroiled in a life of crime. They were doing nothing to jeopardise their little girl's well-being.
They were a decent, middle-class couple who desperately wanted to adopt Dawn, and had attempted to do so.
However, social services told them not to pursue their application because they were white. Since Dawn was mixed race she would be better off with a black family, they said.
Until recently, local authorities made it incredibly difficult for white couples to adopt a mixed-race child.
And although Education Secretary Michael Gove issued new guidelines last year relaxing the rules on inter-racial adoption, it is still more difficult for cases to be approved than same-race ones -- resulting in growing numbers of children left in care.
Recent figures show that only 3,050 children were adopted from the 65,000 in care in 2010 -- many of whom could have found happy homes with parents of a different race.
Much has been made of the devastating effect such antiquated rulings have had on prospective parents. But what of the impact they have had on children -- especially when they carry both black and white genes? In Dawn's case it led to years of confusion and squandered opportunities.
As an adolescent, she went off the rails, had a breakdown and was put back into care.
It is only now, at 38, that she feels able to reflect on a system she believes badly let her down.
Dawn's British biological mother, Linda, gave her up for adoption when she was born in June 1973, after Linda's Jamaican immigrant husband, Owen, walked out on her.
Dawn's foster parents Pete -- now 70 and a retired civil servant -- and Gina, 69, had two daughters and a son of their own but were overjoyed that they were able to look after Dawn, too.
She says: 'They were generous people who wanted to help others less fortunate.
'Mum and Dad, as I called them, treated me the same as their other children. I was their first foster child -- and from the start they made me feel welcome.' A bright girl, Dawn excelled at school. She claims her skin colour was never questioned by anyone, not even herself.
'I never asked my parents why my skin was darker, and my hair curly and black,' she says. 'I would have loved my sister's long blonde hair but it didn't occur to me to ask why mine was so different.
'It didn't matter that I was the only black child in my primary school. Mum was always there at sports days and parents' evenings, and I knew I was loved.' She says she only discovered Gina and Pete weren't her real parents when the official from Slough social services called on the family one afternoon in July 1980.
Dawn was told then that she could no longer live with the people she loved. …