Allow white couples to adopt black children, says minister

Adoption guidelines should be relaxed to let white couples adopt children from different ethnic backgrounds, a government minister urged local councils today.

Minister for Children Tim Loughton said social services departments should look less at the ethnic match of would-be adopters, and more at whether they would make good parents.

Social workers are required to give “significant consideration” to race when placing children, because of concerns that they may struggle to settle in new families from different cultural backgrounds. But the Department for Education said ministers feel that authorities should not be “over-sensitive” on the issue.

Government data shows there are almost 11,000 looked-after children in London’s 33 boroughs, but only 320 were adopted last year. According to the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, 80 per cent of all children adopted in London are white. Mr Loughton said the “number one consideration” should be whether the would-be parents can provide a good home for the child.

Officials said Mr Loughton wants to encourage a cultural shift among social workers, some of whom are believed to take an inflexible approach to matching children with couples from similar racial backgrounds.

“If it is a great couple offering a good, loving, stable, permanent home, that should be the number one consideration,” said the minister. “Too many social workers are holding out for the perfect match, so suitable couples are turned away and children are staying in care for years as a result.”

Ethnic minority children are over-represented among the young people in care who never find permanent homes. It takes an average of two years and seven months to adopt, but black, Asian and mixed-race children usually wait three times longer than white children.

Guidance to local authorities is to be reissued soon, and it is understood that there will be no radical change to the official position on racial matches. But ministers want a fresh approach in the way the guidance is implemented.

David Holmes, chief executive of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, said he wanted children to be adopted as quickly as possible: “You can’t just ignore a child’s background. But you need to make sure that the focus is not so much on finding a perfect match that there’s a delay.”