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In search of belonging

5 April 2006

Despite the politicisation of ‘race’ and adoption, relatively little is known about the experiences of Black children adopted by white families. A new anthology aims to change that.

The adoption of Black children by white families has led to heated debate amongst politicians, social workers and the public about the placement needs of Black children.  Are white adoptive families able to meet the needs of Black children?  Will children adopted transracially be confused about their identity and ill equipped for coping with any racism they will experience? Should children be adopted from the developing world?  Will these children lose their birth culture and language? Do the benefits of a white adoptive family outweigh any disadvantages?

Black children have been adopted by white families in the UK for over fifty years and yet the voices of transracially adopted children and adults - telling how they feel about the experience - have rarely been heard.  In search of belonging: Reflections by transracially adopted people, published by the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), at last gives voice to this experience.

In search of belonging is a groundbreaking collection, the first of its kind in the UK, bringing together poetry, art, autobiography, memoir and oral testimony from more than 50 transracially adopted people.  These contributors range in age from six to 56, some were born in the UK and others adopted from countries as different as Kenya and Hong Kong, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and El Salvador.

Until now the discourse around transracial and transnational adoption has been dominated by the voices of liberal academics, white adoptive parents, legislators and government

The experiences they describe are wide-ranging and cover adoptive placements made during a fifty-year period (1950 - 2000) by a range of adoption agencies.  Primarily, they are the perspectives of transracially adopted adults, the majority of whom joined their adoptive family in the 1960s and 1970s.  They include those who were placed with their adoptive family in infancy and others as older children following a period in residential care, foster care and/or social services intervention..

This anthology is a significant contribution to the literature arising from the service user movement in the UK.  It is a form of alternative knowledge based on direct experience of adoption policy, family placement and adoption support services, and the specific practices of transracial and transnational adoption.  It is knowledge that stems from personal and collective experience of transracial and transnational adoption.

Up until now the discourse around transracial and transnational adoption has been dominated by the voices of liberal academics, white adoptive parents (and prospective adopters) of Black children, legislators, government, and advocates of transnational and transracial adoption.  We need to ask ourselves: are we ready to hear what transracial adoptees have to say? Are we ready to listen?

The collection reveals that it is far too simplistic to view such placements in purely positive or negative terms

Through a series of intensely moving testimonies, In search of belonging, conveys the complexity for Black and minority ethnic children of being raised by a white adoptive family.  Demonstrating unequivocably the lifelong impact of transracial adoption, this collection reveals that it is far too simplistic to view such placements in purely positive or negative terms.

The themes of separation and loss, the search for identity and belonging permeate these accounts, but so does the power of healing, survival, reconnection, happiness and hope. A wide range of experiences are described including racism during childhood, placement disruption, visiting country of origin, reclaiming cultural heritage, searching for birth mothers, fathers and other relatives, becoming a parent, involvement with the psychiatric system and meeting other transracial adoptees.

This anthology highlights the responsibility social workers, adoption advisors and adoption panel members have to these children and adults to get it right, both now and in the future, to make the best placements they can and to provide appropriate support services that are available to transracial and transnational adoptees throughout their lives.  It is important to listen carefully to what is being said, question existing assumptions and beliefs about transracial and transnational adoption, and reflect on the implications for policy, practice and services.

This highly original book brings together established writers, such as Jackie Kay, emerging writers and those who have never before been published. As well as a forward by acclaimed poet, Lemn Sissay, the book includes a substantial introduction and a comprehensive resource section on the BAAF website.

In search of belonging is an important, thought-provoking book, not only for all transracially adopted young people and adults, but for anyone with an interest in ‘race’, family, and child welfare policy.

In search of belonging: Reflections by transracially adopted people edited by Perlita Harris is published by BAAF on 5 April 2005. ISBN 1 903699 77 0.

Dr Perlita Harris/School for Policy Studies

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