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what adopters need to consider prior to adopting a child trans-racially.

This may seem a bit controversial but I believe, as a transracially adopted adult and a twice adopted parent, in an ideal world all children would be placed with at least one parent from a similar background. However I know that currently with the low number of black and ethnic minority adopters and the significant number of BAME children in need of families, in the UK, US or considering many other countries, this is not currently possible.

I have supported young people leaving residential or foster care at 18 and I have seen how adrift they can be, going out into the world, sometimes without a family to back them up. they lack the support system of a family, frequently few friends and have experienced significant moves during their childhood. without this support setting up their new life, getting educated, getting a job and in their turn parenting can be more difficult.

If an approved adopter is considering caring for a child who does not share their cultural back ground, it is important to be mindful of the implications, in caring for a black or ethnic minority child.

In my view Adoption Agencies do not sufficiently prepare adopters explaining the importance of bringing up children understanding black culture and their own identity. I have provided 11 key approaches which will minimise the search trans-racially adopted children will have in learning about their own identity as adults.

  • Find out ACCURATELY about the child’s background

To find out ACCURATELY about the child’s background. Social workers do not always ask the correct questions, so it is critical while in touch with workers to find out exactly where the child’s parents and grandparents come from. And to push for more information if as adopters they are given vague answers. “Afro-Caribbean” or “African American” will tell the adult adopter nothing, so don’t accept it as the total picture.

When this is not possible, perhaps if the father’s details are unknown, at some point in the future a DNA search can be completed to tie heritage down to some specifics.  This is perhaps helpful to do early on, as the child can learn about specific countries, they hail from.

  • Learn about the child’s culture

Where they are known, adopters should learn about the culture, the country’s history, the traditions and ideally the birth language. From a very early stage learn with the child and make it fun. Children can feel reluctant to talk about the culture that can, in their eyes set them apart. However if you can be made fun it will be less of a struggle.

It is important to normalise this discussion and their experience so they don’t feel learning about their birth heritage is a chore, or that they are negatively different from the people around them.

  • Be ready to be uncomfortable and challenged

Both the adopter, the child, and everyone around them will be experiencing Unconscious Biases, also known as implicit biases, are “inherent or learned stereotypes about people that everyone forms without realizing it. Unconscious biases are social stereotypes about an individual, group or institution”.

As a result of these learnt biases adopters will need to work on their self-knowledge and understanding of racism, power inequality, systemic racism, white privilege, and stereotyping.

  • Recognise they are on a journey, requiring self-development

As an adopter how the arrangement goes will be in large part down to how mindful, self-aware and open the adopter is to learning about themselves and their emotional triggers.

  • Surround the child with positive images and people who look like them.  

Surround them with positive images and people who look like them, in books, TV, Cinema and a range of activities.  Research indicates that babies of only a few month’s old, recognise the colour of the faces that they see around them, so adopters can teach them black and brown people are familiar and safe. Otherwise the danger is if they never see people looking like them, that black and brown people are unfamiliar and potentially intimidating.    

  • Broaden family and friend networks

It is important to broaden family and friend networks to a range of people from different back grounds, if the adopter does not yet have them. Given the strong negative messages that pervade across the media, society, criminal justice etc, the child is going to struggle to feel positive about their own identity if the only people they know about who share their background are their parents who could not care for them/keep them safe.

  • Always consider the child’s long term identity

Teenage years for any child is a period of search, refining their image, themselves and their own identity. They will need all the information available. It is crucial to collate and record all the details given to you about their early life, parents and extended family for discussion with the child at an appropriate time.

  • Do not lie or ‘sugar coat’ birth information

It is often hard to discuss a child’s history with them, and discussion must be kept appropriate to the child’s age and level of understanding. However it is important to NEVER lie or mislead a child. This will completely erode their trust in their adopters when it comes to light, and it will. During the adopters life time or even worse afterwards.

  • Promote direct and indirect contact

It is crucial in nurturing your child’s self-knowledge, that adopters promote indirect contact and where possible infrequent contact with birth parents, and/or family. This contact will help children to fully understand who they are. However the planning of any face to face contact has to be fully considered and agreed in advance to facilitate contact safely.

  • Constantly learning

It is important to develop a culture of learning, developing and exploring. Ideally to take the child (with the whole family) to cultural events, activities, carnivals, churches, mosques wherever they can immerse themselves in their birth culture.

And most importantly to enjoy the time with the trans-racially adopted child!

Are you approved as an adopter and wondering how introductions are going to go?

Are you unsure how best to approach the process of meeting your child for the first time?

Are you anxious about meeting foster carers for the first time?


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