At a young age I was lucky enough to be adopted by my parents: my dad is a person of colour, and my mum is white, which reflected the racial make-up of my birth parents. This representation meant that growing up I never felt ‘out of place’ or as if I stood out, which, as a child, is particularly important. 

Growing up as an adopted person of colour means I understand very well the importance of racial representation within the adoption system. Children of colour and mixed ethnic children and young people are disproportionately overrepresented in the care system. Latest government statistics show that black children were more likely to be looked-after (7%) and less likely to be adopted (2%) compared with their share of the under-18-year-old population (5%) while Asian children were less likely to be looked-after (4%) and less likely to be adopted (1%) compared with their share of the under-18-year-old population (10%). This compares to white children who were less likely to be looked-after (74%) and more likely to be adopted (83%) compared with their share of the population of all under-18-year-olds (79%).   

That fewer black and ethnic minority children are adopted is not helped by a lack of racial diversity among adopters and carers. More needs to be done to understand the barriers that exist for prospective adopters from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. 

There have been changes to government guidance in recent years which means adopters can be considered as adoptive parents to a child with a different race or ethnic background. This is to help ensure children who cannot return to their birth family are not kept waiting for permanent homes unnecessarily. It is not uncommon to hear of interracial families where children aren't only ‘matched’ through their physical appearance, and this, I believe shows some sort of progress. 

Despite these changes, however, it would be a huge mistake to disregard the impact that a child’s culture, religion and race will have on them and their adoption experience. Importantly, any absence of belonging can lead to questions about identity adopters may not always have the answer to and could potentially impact the child’s mental health. Research shows that children and young people who are adopted are already at significantly higher risk of mental health issues than their non adopted peers. 

As I grew older, I often talked to my dad about race, which was important for me.  While my race is something I am proud of, it is also something I see as a difference. Children should grow up being proud of who they are and to overlook a child’s racial identity undermines the history and culture of that racial group and its importance to the child’s sense of self. If we are to support interracial adoption, then much more needs to be done to understand this.  

We need a system that has built-in support to help children and young people to understand and feel confident about their identity from the moment they are placed, throughout their adoption journey and into adulthood. That system must also help the child’s family to be able to support their child and navigate these complexities.  

For this to work, professionals working with these families must be properly trained. In addition, social workers and others working across children’s social care ought to be far more ethnically and racially representative of society as a whole – it shouldn’t need to be said that it matters to a child of colour to see people in authority who look like them. 

Issues surrounding race and cultural identity are far more talked about today than in the past. Despite this, it feels as though the world has been going through an identity crisis for the last few years. Everyone seems to be trying to figure out who they are in this confusing world, and race is an important aspect of that. For adopted people, questions around identity already play strongly on the mind – inevitably linked to the question ‘where do I come from?’

This is why I believe representation and race should be key issues for policymakers. We must be careful not to side-line issues because they are difficult or we don’t understand them, and instead engage in honest and open discussions with the children and young people affected. 

By Sinead