A sense of identity

Although black, Asian or mixed race children often have to wait the longest for a new adoptive of permanent foster family, there are many stories of successful adoption in black and Asian families, some of which have been collected in a book published by BAAF, Looking after our own. For these families, their ethnic descent and heritage, and sense of their identity, played a particularly important part during the adoption process.

Perceptions of adoption

Many of the families who share their stories in the book experienced difficulties with how their communities and families of origin viewed adoption. Bunmi, a single black woman from Nigeria, had to face huge resistance when she announced her intentions to adopt a little boy, Nathan. Unlike fostering, adoption is not that common in the Nigerian community. “When I told my dad, he could not get his head around why I was taking someone else’s child. He said that if I wanted a child, he would go and get one from Nigeria.” When she went to Nigeria with Nathan, no one could believe that he was her adopted son. “They could not conceive the idea of adopting outside the family. They’re all convinced he’s my birth child. Our culture, my parents’ generation, are really into blood connections.”

Although her community is also resistant to adoption, Nikki, an adopter from Sierra Leone, found her family rallying around her when she adopted her daughter, Lisa. “I think our family gained a lot from adopting, by breaking down the stereotypes and the stigma of adoption. If I am honest, adoption is not seen as the number one choice in my community. There is a lot of adoption in Sierra Leone, but it’s all unofficial. My family, even the wider family, have all taken Lisa in. They all love her.”

Jasminder, a Sikh Punjabi adopter, found that, in her community, some people see adoption as a ‘stigma’ and others consider it to be a positive thing to do, a good deed in life. This was also the experience of Hudson, who is of African-Caribbean and African-American descent, and adopted with his white partner. “In the black community, I think the concept of adoption is polarised. For some people it’s the most natural thing in the world, like any other community, and yet for others the response is like ‘Oh my goodness, why would you do that?’”

Nita is of Anglo-Asian descent and adopted three daughters. Her experience of being accepted as an adopter was a positive one. “In the Asian community in this part of the city where we live and have always worked, it was seen as quite ordinary, or not particularly unusual, for me to adopt because I didn’t have a man. I was perceived as someone who was interested in being with children because of my teaching experience.”

Coming from a Caribbean background meant that, for Christine, adoption had always been a possibility. “I grew up in Jamaica where it is quite normal for a family who have lots of children to send one of them to grow up with Auntie so-and-so, who doesn’t have a child.”
Reflections on ethnicity

For black, Asian or mixed ethnicity adopters, the whole adoption process, from thinking about what child they would like to adopt, to being assessed and finally linked with a child, requires some reflection on their ethnicity, and that of their adoptive child.

As Hudson recalls, “Before we started the assessment process, we both gave a lot of thought to what sort of child we felt we would be able to offer a home to. We felt we could care for and love a black, African-Caribbean or Asian child, but not a white child. For me, the issue isn’t one of discrimination, but of the best use of resources.”

They also considered the religion of the child they wanted to adopt. “Both my wife and I are Christians and we had given some serious thought to taking on a child of an Islamic persuasion. We both agreed that this wouldn’t be a problem. We live in a multi-cultural community and many of our friends are Muslims.”

For Nita, the first difficulty was how to define and explain her own culture and ethnicity to her social worker during the assessment period. “Even though our social worker was a black woman, it took her quite a long time to understand my heritage. She found it complicated to think about what kind of children would be appropriate to place with us. I then had to explain my heritage to panel.”

Nita’s parents are Anglo-Indians, from a mixed Indian and white English community in India and her same-sex partner is white. They were happy to adopt Asian or Asian mixed heritage children of any religion. “We didn’t have any particular faith, but we knew a lot about various religions; the local community is primarily Muslim so that’s probably the one we know most about. I don’t speak an Asian language fluently. I do speak some Hindi and Urdu but I was brought up speaking English.”

The little boy who Jasminder adopted with her white English husband is of similar mixed ethnicity, which makes it much easier to help him develop a sense of his identity and heritage. “We always talk about the fact that (…) his tummy mummy is Indian like me and his birth father is English like Daddy. We also try to speak Punjabi to him.”

For Christine, it was important that her child looked similar to her. “I told my caseworker that I wanted a child who looked like me, someone I could take home [to Jamaica] without having to explain.”

Looking after our own. The stories of black and Asian adopters.Hope Massiah, Editor. BAAF 2005. ISBN 1 903699 70 3. £9.95 + p&p.

Originally published in the Be My Parent newspaper in March 2006.

This article is published with the kind permission of the people involved. You may download it for your own reference but if you wish to use it for any other purpose, please contact Be My Parent for authorisation: Be My Parent, BAAF, Saffron House, 6-10 Kirby Street, London EC1N 8TS. Telephone: 020 7421 2666/5/4.

Last updated: 29 April 10

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