Why won’t black people adopt

“If we say we are followers of Jesus – people who put others before ourselves – why is it that even the relatively comfortable Black Christians refuse to even consider adoption?”

WHY WON’T BLACK PEOPLE ADOPT? By Rev Wale Hudson-Roberts

As someone with first-hand experience of Britain’s care system, Rev Wale Hudson-Roberts asks: Why do so few African and Caribbean people adopt, when there are so many Black children in need of a loving home?

The majority of children who are awaiting adoption in the United Kingdom are from ethnic minority backgrounds, and more than 60% of those are either Black, Mixed Race or multi heritage, while most adopters are White. For many children, being in care might be their only chance of survival. Yet even this fact does not sufficiently pull at the heartstrings of our Black community, which is notorious for its unwillingness to adopt children from the British care system. In Africa and the Caribbean, however, the converse is the case.

Whenever parents die, their children are taken care of by appropriate family members. This could be grandparents, siblings, even long lost cousins. It is generally presumed that a family member will take orphaned children into their home, and treat them as they would their own. This is a good thing, and shows that the Black community is heavily involved in informal adoption. Yet the Diaspora community is often reluctant to adopt children who are disassociated from families known to us, and who feature in the British care system. Why?

Perhaps the Government’s decision to make it standard practice to place babies with prospective adopters, rather than in foster care, is not just a victory for all those who have campaigned for many years for this, but might also encourage those from within the African and Caribbean communities to consider adopting. Many children are placed into care when they are less than a year old and, under the current system, it takes an average of 15 months for babies to find a permanent and loving home. It is not surprising that the Government is legislating to make fostering by potential adopters another option that local authorities are obligated to consider. Because the numbers of African and Caribbean families who foster are greater than those who adopt, let’s hope that this welcome policy might encourage families to extend foster care into adoption.

This policy change might have an effect in terms of a surge in African and Caribbean applicants. Personally though, I doubt it, which means we need to consider at least one of the possible root causes behind the dearth of Black adopters.

Could it be that the African and Caribbean Diasporas have got so entangled in the politics of survival that they don’t want to adopt, with parents being more focused on putting bread on the table for their own children; ensuring that they are not unduly affected by racism, and giving their children the strength of character to resist the lure of the gangs? Have such external pressures forced many Black people to interpret Jesus’ mission to do good to others through a narrow lens, vis-à-vis doing justice for one’s immediate family?

As far as adoption is concerned, a struggling Black parent feeding another child has further economic implications, and nurturing yet another soul, social implications. This leaves adoption as something for the few – those who have money in the bank; a very healthy family network, and who live in a nice area not far from a progressive school.
Back in Africa and the Caribbean, the pressures are different, and can be absorbed by the entire village or a large network of friends and relatives. Adoption from within or out of the family is less strenuous; something that isn’t just for the privileged few, because the adopted child belongs not just to a single family but to many. This might explain why the Caribbean and African informal adoption process sometimes works a treat, and why the informal community adoption is dynamic and intrinsic to the culture.

There is, of course, another side to this. Many Black people are now financially blessed, and have the privileges to go with it. Our churches are replete with them. They are Black, successful, and donate money to their churches. If finance, emotional stability and strong family networks are plentiful among the burgeoning Black middle classes, what excuse do they have for not adopting one of the many young Black kids languishing in the British care system? I, like many others, am a product of that system. My teenage years were unbearable. Whilst my life carries on, the scars will always remain.

Many years on, there are plenty more Black kids in care – each with masses of potential – but for many, their potential will go unrealised. Instead, they might be plagued by dysfunctional attachments; low self esteem; frequent bouts of depression; suicidal thoughts, and the inability to form healthy friendships, even to hold down a job for any length of time. Theirs is a difficult path, not knowing who to trust or distrust, viewing most people – even those who seek to give them unconditional love – as suspicious. My concern is this: Care homes should not be bulging with African and Caribbean children. There are enough resources within our communities to address this institutional malaise. If we say we are followers of Jesus – people who put others before ourselves – why is it that even the relatively comfortable Black Christians refuse to even consider adoption?

Rev Wale Hudson-Roberts is the Racial Justice Coordinator for the Baptist Union of Great Britain

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