'Race', Ethnicity, and Adoption

'Race', Ethnicity, and Adoption

'Race', Ethnicity, and Adoption

'Race', Ethnicity, and Adoption


"This important study provides a unique and comprehensive analysis of research into the development of adoption policy and practice regarding black and minority ethnic children in the care of local authorities... I found this book intellectually stimulating and often provocative - it does not make comfortable reading but in the final analysis the case for retaining a commitment to placing children in families which reflect their ethnicity is strongly made." - Felicity Collier, the Director of British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering.

• What are the needs of adopted minority ethnic children?

• To what extent can white families meet these needs?

• Should the emphasis on ethnic matching of children and families in adoption be relaxed?

This book reviews the long running and often fierce controversy surrounding the adoption of black and minority ethnic children, either transracially into white families or into matched 'same race' placements. Through analysis of research and the writings of protagonists, the core concepts - namely the nature and salience of racial/ethnic identity, cultural heritage and dealing with racism - are explored and located within broader debates on 'race' and the family. The history of the controversy is set out in terms of the competing paradigms offered by liberalism and black radicalism, and more recent 'post-structuralist' influences. The author argues the need to see adoption (and especially that of black children) as inherently political and contested. While broadly supporting the case for 'same race' adoption, it is suggested that this must rest on acknowledgement of, and engagement with, social and psychological complexities, rather than their suppression beneath doctrinaire formulae.

'Race', Ethnicity and Adoption sets the issues in the wider context of a multiracial society and its politics, and will be of particular interest to social workers and child care professionals, but will also appeal more widely to students of sociology, and social and public policy.


Policy and practice relating to the adoption of black and minority ethnic children has been one of the most contentious aspects of child care in Britain and the United States for over three decades. Protracted, often bitter, struggles have been fought among those who would claim to have the children’s best interests at heart. The conflicts have taken place in varied arenas, mostly relatively private, but sometimes in the full glare of media publicity. At the centre of debate lies the phenomenon of transracial adoption (TRA), its perceived merits and flaws. The primary source of contention is that it is taking place in a racially divided and race-conscious society. Thus, beneath the apparent neutrality of the language, TRA has historically represented a form of ‘one-way traffic’, with black and minority ethnic children moving to white homes. Such passages have attracted critical attention, focusing on questions of racialized power and its significance for both interpersonal relationships and wider social processes. While the arguments deployed are both varied and complex, they have tended to crystallize around levels of support for or opposition to TRA, the extent to which it is desirable and, if so, in what circumstances?

This book seeks to explore the struggles which have taken place over ‘race’, ethnicity and adoption, their history and focal points. The question of sources for such an endeavour reveals something of a paradox. On the one hand, there is a substantial literature. As early as the mid-1980s, a bibliography compiled by Harris (1985) showed over 370 relevant entries. Yet, as will be argued here, there remain major gaps in our knowledge. One of the most obvious areas of ignorance surrounds the numbers of children adopted transracially or inter-country in Britain (or in recent years in the United States). In spite of, or perhaps because of, the contentiousness of the area, there has been no official ethnic monitoring either of children in the public care system or of those adopted. (The Labour government in the UK has, however, pledged to introduce ethnic monitoring in the near future.) In its absence, we are left to rely on a few snapshot pictures emerging either . . .

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