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Children waiting for adoptive parents need love, not a perfect ethnic match

Lucie McInerney
Sandeep and Reena Mander outside Oxford County Court on 6 December, 2019 after they won almost £120k in damages after a judge ruled they were discriminated against by not being allowed to adopt because of their Indian heritage: PA

Adoption hit the headlines on both sides of the Atlantic this week – for very different reasons. On Friday, British couple Sandeep and Reena Mander were awarded £120,000 in damages after a judge found in their favour that they were racially discriminated against in their attempt to adopt a child.

The couple sued the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead council after their application to join a register of approved adopters was rejected on the grounds of their Indian ancestry. Adopt Berkshire told the couple that only white British pre-school children were available for adoption in the area, and they should instead look to adopt from India or Pakistan. The Manders have successful careers in IT and telecoms respectively and were described as “high-earners” with a secure income and homes they owned – including a five-bedroom house in Berkshire. Yet the fact of their ethnicity appeared to trump all other factors when considering the family as potential adoptive parents.

Judge Melissa Clarke said she found “that there is clear evidence that Mr and Mrs Mander, who [she] found expressed willingness to consider a child of any ethnicity, received less favourable treatment than would a comparable couple of a different ethnicity”. The couple, who had undergone several rounds of IVF treatment unsuccessfully, and lost an early-stage pregnancy, eventually adopted a child from the US.

Meanwhile, inside the US the most heart-warming story of the week came from Kent County, Michigan, where the process of adoption is approached quite differently. Thursday marked the 23rd annual Adoption Day at the county courthouse. A video posted to the Kent County Facebook page showed how Michael Orlando Clark Jr celebrated his legal adoption in his own unique way: the adorable five-year old invited his whole kindergarten class along to celebrate the occasion with him.

Michael sat next to his adoptive parents, David Eaton and Andrea Melvin, as his classmates each spoke about what he meant to them: “My name is Steven, and Michael is my best friend,” said one; “My name is Lily and I love Michael,” another chipped in. It’s a total cuteness overload. At the conclusion of the hearing, Judge Patricia Gardner had Michael and his parents bang the gavel to mark the conclusion of the proceedings – and the start of his new life with his mum and dad. At the end of the video, Michael repeatedly tells a local news reporter: “I love my daddy!” Mr Eaton is overcome with emotion each time his son speaks. Only the coldest of hearts could find themselves unmoved.

As this viral video shows, Michael is African-American and his adoptive parents are white. The love and adoration felt within in this little family bursts off the screen. Ethnicity is irrelevant to this family unit, and their wider community; the love, trust and security that this little boy feels with him mum and dad is the priority – and that’s what a child needs.

Of course there are good reasons why adoption services would aim to place a child with adoptive parents who share their ethnicity where possible. But failure to find a prospective adopter with the same colour skin should not preclude any child from being given the chance to find a settled family life, and a happy home for the rest of their lives. That is what matters above all else.

Judge Clarke ruled that Adopt Berkshire made “the assumption that it would not be a putative child’s best interest to be matched with prospective adopters who did share their race” and this “was a stereotype which gave race a disproportionate importance as a factor regarding the welfare of children”.

Standing outside Oxford County Court following that ruling, Sandeep Mander summarised situation best when he pointed out that cultural values should never be assumed based on an ethnic “tick box” exercise.

“Let us be clear, a child’s welfare is the most important thing when looking for any prospective adopter,” he said. “However matching cultural values and beliefs is just one of many areas that should be assessed when looking at the suitability of adopters to ensure that child’s welfare. It should never be the overriding factor to stop you even being considered – which is what happened to us.”

After that ruling, it shouldn’t happen again.

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