Shift on ethnicity rules signals new dawn for adopters

By Jessica Elgot, May 17, 2012

Changes to the law will help Jewish families to adopt a child in the UK - as most are currently deemed "unsuitable" by local authorities.

Councils still insist that prospective parents match the ethnicity of the children they are adopting - and halachically Jewish children are rarely put up for adoption. Under the current system, wanting to raise a Jewish family can be enough to strike parents off the waiting list.

Education Secretary Michael Gove, who was adopted when he was four months old, has spoken of the need for legislation because councils were not following new government advice on adoption and ethnicity. Last week, the Queen's speech proposed to "stop damaging delays by social workers in matching parents to ethnic minority children".

Gillian Kirsch, head of adoption at Norwood, which acts as a Jewish adoption agency, said just six Jewish children had been placed for adoption in the past three years.

"People would not be encouraged to go to the local authority and say 'I want to adopt a non-Jewish child and [have the child] go through a conversion'."

She welcomed the proposed legislation, and explained: "The local authority must now look, in the first instance, for a family that matches the child's ethnic background and culture. If a family cannot be found, the authority will look for families that will meet the holistic needs of that child.

"It can help Jewish prospective adopters be considered for non-Jewish children. But a Jewish family will always be considered a priority if a Jewish child comes up for adoption. So it will work both ways."

But she added: "The child must feel part of the family they are joining. At age three or four, children will have memories of events like Christmas and, if they went to an observant Jewish home, they might feel they do not belong."

Last updated: 11:31am, May 17 2012