Don’t make race a barrier to adoption, say public

Posted on 28 December 2012

Britons from ethnic minority backgrounds are most likely to say that race should not be a factor in finding adoptive parents for children in care, polling from Britain Thinks carried out for British Future shows.

Photo by J. Nathan Matias (Rubberpaw)

Less than one in ten people (9%) believe that “it should be a strict requirement that children who are adopted should be placed with parents who are the same ethnicity as the child”. This was, by a considerable distance, the least popular option with Britons from across all ethnic backgrounds, though this view was chosen by one in five (21%) among Asian participants, compared to 9% of white respondents, 9% of those who were black and 6% of those who are mixed race.

There was a more even split between those who felt that  “”Ideally children who are adopted would be placed with parents who are the same ethnicity as them, but where this is not possible it should not prevent a child from being adopted” (48%) and those expressing the view that “ethnicity should not be a factor when matching children with adoptive parents” (40%). (These figures include the 2% who said they did not agree with any  of the three options, but exclude the 7% who said they didn’t know: including “don’t knows” would make the figures 45% to 37%).

But there were different views about this among white and non-white respondents, with those from ethnic minorities, overall, not as keen to take race into account as white respondents were.

White respondents in the poll were more likely (50%) to think that it would be better to seek an ethnic match if possible, without that getting in the way of adoptions, with 39% preferring not to take race into account at all, and 2% disagreeing with all three options.

That pattern was reversed for Britons who are themselves not white – with 51% wanting no consideration of ethnicity, while 33% thought that ethnic matching is ideal but not necessary.  Asian views (36%) were similar to those of white respondents, but the preference of most black (55%) and mixed race (71%) respondents for race not being considered drove the overall difference between white and non-white respondents.

Support for ethnic matching in adoption was considerably higher among the minority of Britons who said that they are uncomfortable with mixed race relationships, with 28% favouring a requirement for adoptive parents to have similar ethnic background to a child they are adopting. This falls to 4% among the much larger group who are comfortable with mixed relationships. Even among those uncomfortable with mixed relationships, 55% said ethnic matching in adoption was ideal but not desirable, and 16% of this group wanted to disregard race as an adoption criteria. Of those comfortable with mixed relationships, 44% saw placing children with parents of similar ethnicity as ideal but not essential, and 50% preferred not to make race a factor at all.

There was also an inter-generational difference in attitudes, with 52% of those aged 18-24 saying that race should not be a factor, compared to 33% of those over 65. 58% of the over 65s saw an ethnic match as ideal but not essential, compared to 33% of those under 24. Scots were also a little more likely to say that ethnicity should not be a factor at all in adoption, with that view held by 47% in Scotland compared to 40% across the UK, with 43% of Scots seeing an ethnic match as ideal but not a barrier to adoption, and 7% wanting to insist on an ethnic match in adoption.

Martin Narey, adoption adviser to the government, said that “This finding confirms my view, informed from speaking to hundreds of adopters and would be adopters, that race is not and should not be a key issue in adoption. It is not that ethnicity is irrelevant, indeed adopters understand that raising a child of . a different ethnicity provides a challenge. But adoption is full of challenges and most are much greater than this one. These statistics confirm that if local authorities and adoption agencies act more flexibly on ethnicity and culture that they will find the adopters willing to give the earliest possible home to every child.”

A further question in the Britain Thinks polling asked the public their view as to whether children whose parents were from different ethnic or racial backgrounds from each other “can find it confusing or difficult to have a strong, secure ethnic or racial identity” or, alternatively, whether these children “can find it liberating as they are able to choose their own identity for themselves”.

38% of people expressed the view this was more likely to be liberating, with 24% thinking it could be confusing or difficult. That 21% chose “neither of these” and 17% didn’t know suggests this was a difficult issue for many people to judge.

However, respondents who were themselves mixed race came down much more strongly on the “liberating” side of the question (62%) with 8% suggesting it could be difficult or confusing. “Liberating” was chosen by 37% of white and 37% of Asian respondents, and 49% of black respondents, while “confused or difficult” was chosen by 24% of white respondents, 27% of black respondents and 30% of Asian respondents.

British Future director Sunder Katwala, whose parents were born in India and Ireland before meeting in Britain in the early 1970s, said that “While personal experiences naturally differ, this poll finding does tend to support the sense that those of us who are mixed race would seem to be, overall, rather more confident and less anxious about a cross-cultural “identity crisis” than others often are on our behalf”.

Katwala also noted that the 2011 census results showed that a large and  growing proportion of children in Britain today are growing up in households containing members of different ethnic backgrounds: “This poll shows that the view that race should not be a decisive factor in adoptions is held more strongly by non-white Britons. That may reflect the finding across many studies of attitudes which consistently show that most people from ethnic minority backgrounds think integration is important in a multi-ethnic society. The census results showed more than one in ten children are growing up in families which contain people from different ethnic backgrounds, as mixed relationships have become a growing, everyday norm over the last half century. In that sense, adoption reforms to ensure that race and ethnicity are not a barrier to adoption could be seen to also reflect that increasing broader social reality of a Britain in which family life is decreasingly segregated along ethnic lines”

Those from mixed race backgrounds were also particularly likely to think mixed race relationships were good for integration – by 77% to 3%.

Overall, 21% of those surveyed worried that mixed race relationships “may lead to the dilution of the identity and culture of the different ethnic groups in our society”. While 23% of white respondents worried about the dilution of the identity and culture of distinct groups, this fear was less likely to be held by non-white respondents (12%) though it did rise to 18% among British Asian respondents. But 44% of white respondents and 66% of non-white respondents supported the generally more popular view that “the growth of mixed race relationships are a good thing. It shows that people can and do mix across ethnic lines, which could help Britain become more integrated”.

The polling was carried out by Britain Thinks, among 2149 respondents, and  the findings on public attitudes informed British Future’s recent report ‘The Melting Pot Generation: How Britain became more relaxed about race‘. There were 261 non-white respondents, with 123 Asian participants, 53* who are black and 47* who are mixed race. * The small sample size of the black and mixed race groups should be noted when interpreting the responses beyond the different responses of white and BME respondents overall.