Adoption programs are right to be choosy

By Anneke Hobson

Eunice and Owen Johns are Pentecostal Christians of Derby, England and no longer adoptive parents. Their problem: homophobia. After applying to adopt a child, Mr. and Mrs. Johns mentioned casually that they were unaccepting of “homosexual lifestyles” and were quickly turned away from the agency. They asked judges at the High Court to rule that agencies shouldn’t deny potential parents based on faith, but the judges admirably insisted that adoptive agencies need to protect children from discrimination because of sexual orientation and that this takes precedence over discrimination against one’s religion. After caring for 15 children during the 1990s, the couple seemed shocked at the seemingly sudden restriction. The Christian Legal Centre was similarly dismayed, claiming that no one should be denied the opportunity to foster based on their Christian beliefs. Either reacting emotionally, or merely looking for sympathy, they quickly declared that “fostering by Christians is now in doubt,” asserting that the judgment “sends out the clear message that orthodox Christian ethical beliefs are potentially harmful to children, and that Christian parents with mainstream Christian views are not suitable to be considered as potential foster parents.”

It seems obvious that this is hyperbole, but let’s consider the root of this problem. The court claimed that the Johns could not adopt an orphan because their religious beliefs would harm a homosexual child. But this isn’t the only reason: even if the adopted child conformed to their heteronormative belief system, she would likely assume their belief system and become homophobic as well. In fact, this is an excellent case of the state recognizing the dangers of raising children to hold any discriminatory beliefs. Religious beliefs should never take precedence over other measures of equality, because too often those beliefs are themselves discriminatory of other groups. While the state shouldn’t discriminate arbitrarily on the basis of one’s religion, secularization demands that no religious view be preferenced, and especially not to another social group’s detriment.

The United Kingdom recently changed their adoption policies to remove barriers on race, age and social background. This move displays their progressive stance away from the outdated psychology of the ’70s and ’80s, but it’s also a sign of an increasingly deficient system. The problem is that volunteering adoptive parents are not common enough for agencies to be choosy: over the last year, adoption rates in England fell by 15 per cent, causing the government to relax its policies on fitting children with foster parents of the same racial and social background. We could think of issues that might arise from being in a very small racial minority in a white city, but the alternative is that children are waiting longer to be adopted overall. Black children on average have to wait 50 per cent longer to be adopted than children of other races. Until now, social workers have been averse to pairing children with parents of different ethnic backgrounds because they believe children will have more difficulty adjusting to life with new families if they’re culturally isolated. Since adopting parents must jump through several hoops to prove themselves capable, however, adopted children remain safe from parents with harmful beliefs (like the Johns).

Taking these facts together, though, adoption is almost always a safe option given the amount of preparation the parents are required to take and will usually make for a better childhood than living in a public care centre. In some cases, too, adoption leads to better child welfare than children brought up by their biological parents — after all, there are no restrictions or preparations necessary to biologically reproduce (although perhaps there should be). In Canada, around 76,000 youths are living in a form of public care and about 22,000 are legally eligible for adoption. Only about 1,700 are adopted each year, leaving the rest to government organizations and charities. I applaud the United Kingdom’s example in revising their adoption laws to make the process both safer from potential harm and more accessible to various social groups. Canada needs to encourage adoption and pay more attention to its adoption laws as the United Kingdom has — our policies are currently governed by province and many of the licensed agencies (that handle most adoptions) are not tracked at all.

National and international adoption laws alike need to be more flexible and encouraging, while still protecting the welfare of children from adoptive parents with Victorian beliefs.

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