Too white and middle class

From the Guardian UK comes this story about couples being discriminated from adopting because they are too white and too middle class. The story leads in with:

It’s a story that is both emotive and familiar. Couple wants children.
Couple finds they’re infertile, so they try to adopt. Couple is
ignored, rejected or humiliated by bureaucratic, impolite and
interfering social workers. Children are left languishing in care,
while couple is forced to adopt from overseas – if, that is, they can
afford it (and, let’s face it, they usually can, since the story goes
that the most likely people to be turned down for adoption are white,
wealthy and middle class). Now, where was I? Oh, yes: couple goes to
tabloid and tells poignant story of eventually getting their "miracle"
baby from China, but how outrageous it was that their noses were put
out of joint along the way.

The article continues with a story about a local family who ended up adopting internationally because local agencies would not consider them appropriate for adopting a minority child locally. But what is interesting with this article is that it seems, unlike most, to present multiple perspectives on what is going on behind the news stories that scream, "Social workers said we were too middle-class and white to adopt."

The journalist who wrote this story, Kate Hilpern, suggests that

I suspect the problem lies in the fact that the middle classes aren’t
used to being social-services clients; that many are used to getting
their own way; that sometimes social workers and the departments they
work in aren’t as sensitive and professional as they could be; and
that, even when they are, it can feel uncomfortable to be asked about
things you may never have even told your wife. Also, many people, once
they embark on the assessment process, find they haven’t come to terms
with their own infertility and want what social services can’t give
them – the healthy baby they never had – and you can see why they feel
disheartened. Many walk away, others are turned away and some, like the
Allens, are approved but never seem to find the right child.

Hilpern participated on an independent adoption panel in the UK that determines the placement of children with adoptive parents and outlines the difficulties of making such a "match." I appreciated Hilpern’s frankness as I’ve struggled with some of the same decisions and questions she writes about in the article. For example, she writes:

There were many times we asked gruelling questions both to social
workers (Why does the husband come across as so detached in your
report?) and to prospective adopters (How do you think your own
difficult childhood experiences will impact on your own style of
parenting?) and there were times we turned applicants or matches down.
It was rare – well over 90% of cases that get to panel are approved –
and when it happened, I’d go home with a heavy heart.But I make
no apology for it. Without fail, at the forefront of our minds were the
worryingly high rates of adoption disruptions – a figure some report
being as high as 29%. Imagine how we felt when the very people we’d
recommended were presented back at panel, having abused the children we
entrusted to them. It happened.

Author: JaeRan

Assistant professor at UW Tacoma, writer, and researcher.

3 thoughts

  1. I read that original complaint and thought there was a lot that was left out. Reading between the lines, I think the couple had to have an infant, even if they didn’t come out and say it. I’m pretty sure they could have adopted an older child of any race, but they felt like they deserved an infant.

  2. Hi
    I’ve been reading your blog for a short while. I really value the chance to read the very thought-provoking writing here. I’m in the UK, a prospective adopter, in the very early stages of the process.
    I can’t claim to know what motivates the couple in the article, but from what I know of UK systems and processes, I doubt the age of the child they were hoping for would make a difference to whether social workers were prepared to make a transracial match. The average age of children adopted in the UK is 4 years, and transracial matches are very rare. The Allens’ protest seems to be based on the premise that children are always better off being adopted than growing up in foster care, which I guess is very often the case, though not always. It’s a complex and contentious area, so I’m really interested to see what other comments you get.

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