Trans-racial placements – is the emphasis on black children with white families?

Trans-racial placements – it’s a controversial subject at the best of times. While the discussions rage on as to the emotional, physical and psychological effect such placements have on children, consideration should also be given to the equality of trans-racial placements. Are more black children being placed with white families, or is the emphasis on placing white children in black placements? To truly consider whether a bias exists, let’s take a look at the evidence.

The history of trans-racial fostering

The practice of trans-racial fostering gained in momentum following the war, when large numbers of orphaned children were placed with carers, many of them white families. However, in the 1970’s concerns were raised over this practice, and the effect it had on black children in white homes. As a result, the Children’s Act of 1989 stated that local authorities had to consider the child’s religion, race, culture and language when making placements.

Are there more black than white children needing care?

According to Maureen McManus, black children are more likely to be in foster care than white children. Individual local authorities implement their own policies for finding placements for black and minority ethnic children (BME), and although many seem to favour same race and heritage placements, procedures are in place when there are no matching carers available to meet the guidelines.

Foster placements opportunities within the BME community

Brighton and Hove authority, for example, are actively trying to recruit more carers from the BME community. However, while BME foster carer numbers are low in relation to the mount of BME children needing placements, white carers are asked to provide care for children from different races and backgrounds. This shortage of carers from the BME community could explain any perceived bias of placing black children into white foster homes.

This viewpoint is mirrored in an article in the Guardian, which states that proportionately the majority of children in care awaiting adoption in Britain are black, Asian or mixed-race, while the majority of families offering a home are white. According to the article, in 2005 87% of the population was white British, yet only 80% of children in care were white, demonstrating the disproportionate amount of BME children requiring care homes.

Matching slows the process

Matching ethnicity of children to available placements slows down the process of fostering, as outlined in a memorandum put forward by Jackie Lewis.  She believes there is an over-emphasis on ethnicity, race and religion when placing children, the result being that there are often delays in placing black and ethnic minority children into loving homes. This results in BME children staying in care for longer time periods.

White children into black families

On the other side of the coin, a paper by Ronny Flynn written in 2000 looks at placing white children with black carers, based on a skills-based approach to utilise carers who are currently been under-used. Ronny outlines how trans-racial placements have traditionally been one-way, favouring placing black children with white parents. Research by Cheetham suggests that white children are not placed with black families, not because black parents are more urgently needed for black children, but that such placements were unpopular with the natural parents, plus the local authorities.

In summary

Evidence suggests that when trans-racial placements are implemented, the emphasis tends to be on placing black children into white families. This is primarily explained by the large numbers of black children needing placements, while the majority of available placements are white. However, there could also be a historical bias against placing white children with black families which is a possible factor in the perceived overall bias of trans-racial placements.




Cheethan J (ed), social Work and Ethnicity, London, George Allen & Unwin, 1982