Adopting orthodoxies
Sunday 2 November, 11.00am until 12.30pm, Henry Moore Gallery

National Adoption Week (10-16 November 2008) is traditionally a time when the case for adopting is promoted, and new adopters recruited. But the issue is surrounded by controversy on a number of fronts. Many would-be adoptive parents are effectively barred from adopting now that concerns about passive smoking and other lifestyle issues are taken into consideration by adoption agencies. And while liberalising reforms have facilitated single and gay adoption, ‘race’ remains a vexed issue, and black children are not ‘matched’ with white carers.

Why is adopting children so mired in pitfalls, regulations and controversy when ‘natural’ parenting needs no such sanction, and many children remain in care while social work bureaucrats wrangle? When social workers have to remove a child from its home, they do so in the name of ‘the welfare of the child’. Is this principle now being invoked unreasonably to make moralistic character judgements about adults keen to love and care for ‘unwanted’ children?

Facing such restrictions, many would-be adopters look to the international stage. But those who do so can face further demonisation, with shrill accusations of baby snatching and exploiting the world’s poorest parents, and calls for tighter regulation of cross-border adoptions too. Are campaigners in the West guilty of misrepresenting informal adoption arrangements made in desperate circumstances as malevolent ‘child trafficking’? Is there a humanitarian case for ‘serial adopting’ by the likes of Angelina Jolie and Madonna? Do they really help needy children from stricken parts of the world, or do the adoption antics of conspicuously compassionate celebrities show exactly why we should be careful about treating children as mere commodities for needy adults?

Emily Buchanan
BBC World Affairs Correspondent; author From China with Love – The Long Road to Motherhood
Theresa Tallis
local authority social worker; specialises in all aspects of adoption and statutory work.
Dave Clements
adviser to local government; blogger, Guardian, Huffington Post; convenor, IoI Social Policy Forum.
David Holmes
chief executive, British Association for Adoption and Fostering
John Harris
Lord Alliance Professor of Bioethics, University of Manchester; joint editor-in-chief The Journal of Medical Ethics; member, Human Genetics Commission

 Produced by
Dave Clements adviser to local government; blogger, Guardian, Huffington Post; convenor, IoI Social Policy Forum.

 Battles in Print
The Culture of Adoption, David Clements

 Recommended readings
Social workers urged to be 'flexible' on ethnic minority adoptions

The British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) is concerned that too many ethnic minority children are left in care homes or with temporary foster families while social workers try to find families to match their precise ethnic and religious background.

Rosemary Bennett, The Times, 7 July 2008

Adoption matches 'too stringent'

Some councils are too stringent in getting an exact match for ethnic minority children who are up for adoption, charities claim.

BBC News, BBC News, 21 June 2008

Too posh to adopt?

A BBC producer and his wife recently claimed they had not been allowed to adopt a British child because they were too white and too middle-class. Are they, and others like them, really victims of a huge injustice?

Kate Hilpern, The Guardian, 17 June 2008

Adoption and a case of perverse PC bigotry

A man and a woman walk into an adoption agency and say they would like to give a child a home. 'We don't want a black one,' they tell the social worker, 'or one that's from a poor background, or some kid who hasn't been educated properly.'

Allison Pearson, Daily Mail, 4 June 2008

National Adoption Week 2007 GMTV Special [David Holmes]

David Holmes, GMTV, 5 November 2007

From China with Love: A Long Road to Motherhood

Emily was determined that her child should come from a country where adoption was properly regulated and China, where many baby girls are abandoned, seemed an obvious choice. Eventually the mountain of bureaucratic and emotional challenges gave way to the utter joy of bringing up Jade and Rose, her two Chinese daughters.

Emily Buchanan, John Wiley & Sons, 20 May 2005

Raising Malawi website

Session partners