The opening debate at Community Care Live 2011, Breaking down the culture divide?, was despite my best efforts a consensual affair. Mary Lucking, head of Adoption at the Department for Education, was critical of an ‘overemphasis on ethnicity in the matching process’ that creates ‘significant delays’ for children who badly need to be placed with families. Nevertheless, she said, the position remains that ‘due consideration’ must be given to cultural, religous, etc needs. But, I asked her, does ethnicity constitute a need? It depends on the child, she said, rather unsatisfactorily.
John Simmonds of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering told us that black children are much less likely to be adopted. Those that are spend on average at least another year in the care system while they wait for the right (ethnically-speaking) family to come along. But rather than question the barriers that the care system and adoption process put in the way of children and their potential families, Simmonds fell back on the usual suspects. ‘We can’t deny the significance of racism and prejudice in society’, he said.
I think that BAAF, and others who stick to this line, need to take a reality check. We don’t live in the 1970s-80s anymore. While there’s no shortage of intolerance and illiberalism these days, ours is not a society divided along race lines. Simmonds even managed to acknowledge that the evidence suggests that children in transracial placements do just as well as any other adopted children. In my view, the social work establishment are too wedded to identity politics. It is a major contributor to the ‘anxiety, guilt and uncertainty’ that he says practitioners experience when trying to place black children. For all the rhetoric to the contrary, individual children’s needs are coming a poor second to an essentialist dogma.