New figures show that last year only 3,050 children were adopted from 65,000 children in care – eight per cent fewer than in 2007.
Many blame social workers for turning down prospective parents for the most spurious reasons.
The Mail spoke to four couples who, rejected by the UK adoption process, found other ways to fulfil their dreams.
Stevan Whitehead, 55, who runs a building company, and his wife Ellie, 60, a special needs teacher, were turned down by seven UK adoption agencies in 1996 for being ‘too white’.
The couple, from West London, went on to adopt their two children Ossie, 14, and Veronica, 13 (pictured), from Guatemala in 1999. Stevan says:
Walking nervously into the hotel lobby, Ellie and I finally caught sight of the little boy and girl we’d waited so long to meet.
The months of paperwork, stress, raised and shattered hopes were forgotten as the three-year-boy and 18-month-old girl reached up for a cuddle.
It was as if we’d always known them. From that first moment on, they felt like our children.
Yet that meeting wasn’t taking place in Britain. We’d had to travel all the way to Guatemala to make our dream of parenthood possible.
My wife and I were turned down for adoption in the UK — not because the agencies thought we were unsuitable parents, but because we were deemed ‘too white’.
We first approached our local authority, Hounslow, in West London, to ask whether we could be considered to adopt in early 1996, following years of failed IVF.
The answer was blunt. ‘We don’t have a need for you. We have more than enough white, middle-class parents waiting to adopt.’
We were absolutely furious. We’d said from the outset that we were perfectly willing to consider any child, of any race, but we were told that wasn’t the way things were done.
Ethnic guidelines in adoption are one of only a handful of areas of life in Britain where it is still lawful for public officials to discriminate on grounds of race as they try to match children to prospective parents of the same ethnicity.
To be dismissed in just ten seconds flat with the tick of a box felt so petty. I felt like shouting: ‘There’s so much more to us than skin colour, if you could just be bothered to listen!’
My wife works as a special needs teacher and I’m a linguist, who speaks Croatian and Russian. We could offer a child — any child — so much, but the system was completely unyielding.
Our concern going into the process was that our ages might be an issue, if anything, but while that was taken into account, it was not deemed to be the main problem. We were white, and therefore surplus to demand.
Severely disappointed, but determined to stay positive, we decided to try to adopt a child from abroad instead.
Three years, several thousand pounds and many glitches later, we finally flew out to collect our two children from Central America. They were in a foster home together, but are not blood-related.
Or, I should say, collect one of our children — British government inefficiency over providing essential paperwork meant we could take only Veronica home, leaving poor Ossie behind.
It was another six months before we were able to collect him. We were so worried he would hate us for abandoning him. There were tears from all three of us on that first flight home.
Eleven years later, I can safely say that we have two remarkably well-adjusted and happy teenagers.
We’ve taken them back to Guatemala to see the famous Easter celebrations, explore the Mayan ruins and even sample the street food — we want them to know every aspect of their culture and feel proud of it.
Raising them has been fantastic. As any parent will tell you, there’s so much more to being a happy family than all having the same skin colour.
It makes me furious to think of the children who are being denied a family life because of this ridiculous rule.
Anna Francis, 39, former stockbroker and author of Russian Adoption: A Practical Guide (russianadoptionguide.com) and her husband Damian Wallis, 44, a financial translator, adopted their three-year-old daughter Ivy, from Russia last October.
This followed years of failed IVF after Anna went through a premature menopause. The family, who live in London, were turned down by northern adoption agencies in 2008 for living too ‘far south’. Anna says:
Adopting our gorgeous little girl was a process that cost us more than £25,000 — money we could barely afford and would be out of reach for most adoptive parents.
Why? Because the only children in the UK who had been deemed a ‘suitable’ match for us, as a white, middle-class couple, were in the North of England — and we were ‘too far’ away for the adoption agencies concerned to visit.
So we had to embark on the process of adopting a child from abroad instead. It’s hard to explain how galling that rejection was: to be denied the chance to offer a good home to needy children because of a few hundred miles and the price of a train ticket.
Adoption was the only way Damian and I could have children after I discovered at the age of just 33 that I was going through an early menopause.
The following year was a rush of drugs, injections, IVF, and donor eggs, but by the end of 2007, we realised adoption was the only option left.
We were actually relieved. You’re never sure of the outcome with IVF, but with adoption, you feel almost certain there must be a child to whom you could offer a loving home.
We weren’t too old, we were healthy, we had a comfortable lifestyle and a lovely home in London — everything would be fine. Or so we thought.
Not so. First, we were ordered to wait three months until I’d ‘mourned my infertility’, before being told, in January 2008, that there were no white children under the age of six available for adoption.
And a white child was all we were suitable for, because social services are still very reluctant to place children from different ethnic backgrounds with white couples.
Thinking this might be just a problem with our council, I rounded up a list of about 15 agencies around the UK and called one after another. But the answer was the same: no suitable children.
That was until I came across a few agencies in the North which said they did have some prospective suitable children — but they wouldn’t be able to visit London to vet us. Even though we offered to visit them or pay for someone to come down to assess us, the answer remained the same.
Our social worker advised us to look into adoption abroad — so we were going to have to pay a fortune to adopt a child from another country while there were suitable children for us here, just a few hours away, who would inevitably end up in care.
After ten months of form-filling and more than £7,000 paid to various UK agencies, we started the adoption process in Russia. We met Ivy in September 2009 and brought her home last October, 13 months later.
It took Ivy nine months to settle; she loves nursery now and is very sociable and happy, but after more than two years in an orphanage, she still rocks herself to sleep at night, just like she did all that time when she was deprived of a parent’s attention and affection.
It’s so sad. It just shows that delays in adoption are unforgivable.
WRONG ETHNIC MIX
Alex Bemrose, 49, an adoption campaigner and author of Our Son From Afar, and her husband Dominic, 36, a conference manager, from Middlesex, adopted their Guatemalan son Jose, four, in 2008 after being deemed too white to adopt.
They were subsequently refused permission to adopt a second child from the UK despite being classed as a ‘mixed race’ family since adopting Jose. Alex says:
Being turned down for adoption once on the grounds of ethnicity was bad enough.
But my husband and I were turned down twice, the first time for being too white and the second — as unbelievable as it sounds — for being the wrong type of mixed race.
I was already in my 40s when I met and fell in love with Dominic, so we always knew it might be difficult for me to get pregnant.
When we failed to have a baby naturally, adoption seemed a great solution. We would have a family, and give two children (we wanted to adopt siblings) a secure and loving home.
But it was with trepidation that I approached our meeting with the local authority in October 2005.
I was concerned that my age might make it more difficult. But that didn’t turn out to be the issue.
One social worker admitted there would be three things that would make it difficult for us to adopt in the UK: we were white, middle class and heterosexual.
It just felt like political correctness gone mad.
Like other couples in our situation, we were finally forced to look overseas, and we adopted our son three years ago from Guatemala, when he was 11 months old.
So, perhaps naively, we thought that when we approached our local authority six months later to see if we could adopt a sibling for our son, it would be much easier than it had been the first time.
After all, we were no longer ‘all white’, and not only did we have a mix of cultures in our family, but we had months of experience with local social workers in our favour.
They were also perfectly happy with the way we were raising Jose (we made sure he was aware of his birth culture and are even teaching him Spanish). But it wasn’t to be.
Extraordinarily, it turned out we were now deemed even more unsuitable.
Could we adopt a mixed-race child? No, not unless they, too, were Guatemalan — and how many of those are available for adoption in the South-East of England?
So could we adopt a white child then? No, because now we counted as a ‘mixed-race’ family.
The anger hasn’t gone away. Not anger for myself and my husband, but for all the children in care who are being refused a home.
That’s why I’m now a director for the campaign group Adoption with Humanity. Our aim is to fight for an adoption system that prioritises children’s needs.
It’s not just my husband and I who have missed out on adopting a second child — I feel sorry for our son.
We would have loved for him to have a brother or sister but we just can’t afford another international adoption, so it’s not to be.
Paul Kersey, 48, is a Merchant Navy captain from St Austell, Cornwall.
He is married to Ella, 32, a full-time mother to their two-year-old son Freddie, a ‘miracle’ baby who was conceived naturally after years of infertility.
Five years ago, Paul and Ella were turned down as adoptive parents by Cornwall Social Services.
One of the primary reasons was Paul’s admission that he occasionally smokes in the garden. He says:
Our mistake was to be too honest, I know that now. No one would have known I smoked if I hadn’t told them. It wasn’t as if the social worker visiting our house to assess us was going to walk into a fume-filled, nicotine-stained hovel with overflowing ashtrays everywhere.
I enjoy the odd cigarette, but always in the garden, never in the house or the car and never around a child. But, stupidly, I mentioned it.
Ella and I first approached social services to adopt in 2006 after years of fruitless attempts to have a baby. We had tried IVF treatment in 2004, only to endure two heartbreaking miscarriages. Adoption seemed the logical next step.
We have a rock-solid relationship: we’ve been married for seven years and together for 11. We live in a lovely, two-bedroom cottage near the sea — the perfect place for a child to grow up.
When we were invited to a preliminary meeting at Truro County Hall five years ago, we resolved to be honest about everything from the start.
My work meant I was away for several weeks at a time (counter-balanced with several weeks of on-shore leave) and Ella, who’s originally from Turkmenistan, hadn’t yet been granted full British citizenship, although it was only a few months away.
Oh, and I had the odd cigarette in the garden now and then. Not a problem, we were reassured.
The next stage was the home visit. Again, we answered all the questions truthfully, thinking it was a done deal.
We were heartbroken when a letter arrived a month later saying that we had been deemed ‘unsuitable’.
My smoking was cited as one reason, as well as the fact that my job took me away from home.
On that basis, no one who serves in any of the Armed Forces would be allowed to become a parent.
Besides, what about all the single women who are allowed to adopt without any man in their lives?
My wife’s citizenship was also mentioned as a reason — even though we had been told it wouldn’t be an issue and it was resolved very quickly.
As for the smoking, yes, I could have given it up. But considering how few cigarettes I smoked, it wouldn’t make me a better parent, and who was to say they wouldn’t find another reason to reject us even if I did?
It made me furious to think they were denying a child a happy, stable family home on such a flimsy excuse.
So we gave up and didn’t re-apply. We couldn’t fight such a flawed system.
We tried one more round of unsuccessful IVF treatment before, in 2009, nature played the most amazing trick on us imaginable and Ella became pregnant.
Freddie was born in August 2009, and looking at our happy, healthy child is all the proof we need of the idiocy of the system. Of course we were — we are — suitable parents.