Local adoption case gives rise to race discrimination concerns

Published: 27 Jun 2017

A British husband and wife, refused permission to adopt a child because of their ‘cultural heritage’, are taking their fight to court.

Sandeep and Reena Mander, both British born and in their thirties, were told not to apply to become adoptive parents by Adopt Berkshire, an adoption agency run by the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM), on the basis that white British/European applicants would be given preference. 

The Manders are culturally British and of Sikh Indian heritage, although they have no close links to India and have no close family living there.

Throughout the process the couple made it clear that they would be delighted to adopt a child of any ethnic background, with or without siblings.

However, following a home visit and assessment by Adopt Berkshire, they were informed that although otherwise they would be very suitable adoptive parents, they could not make an application because white couples would be given priority as there were only white children available for adoption.

The agency accepted that there was no reason to think the Manders could not provide a loving and financially stable home but suggested they should consider adopting from India.

David Isaac, Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

“There are many children who are waiting for a loving family like Sandeep and Reena to help give them a better life. To be denied this because of so-called cultural heritage is wrong.

“The law says race and culture should not be overriding factors when local authorities and adoption agencies match prospective parents and children. This will help to ensure a fair system for all that will secure the best outcomes for young people in our care system.”

Sandeep and Reena have tried unsuccessfully to get the agency’s decision reversed by making a formal complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman. Even a letter from Prime Minister Theresa May, acting as their local MP, failed to sway the agency.

Eventually the Manders decided to take legal action, and sought the help of law firm McAllister Olivarius, who specialise in helping people who face unfair treatment and discrimination.

Senior Counsel at McAllister Olivarius, Georgina Calvert-Lee, representing the couple, said:

“It is unacceptable for a child to be denied loving adoptive parents solely on the grounds that the child does not share the same racial or cultural heritage as the adopters.

”Adopt Berkshire’s refusal to consider Sandeep and Reena as adoptive parents of a white child, regardless of other cultural and financial considerations is an effective ban on trans-racial adoption. Adoption should not be predicated on race or colour.”

Sandeep Mander said:

“As a couple, we didn’t picture our life without a family. Having attended introductory workshops organised by RBWM and Adopt Berkshire, giving an adopted child, no matter what race, the security of a loving home was all we wanted to do. We were so encouraged by the welcoming attitude at the introductory workshops of all races, religions and sexualities.

“What we didn’t expect was a refusal for us to even apply for adoption, not because of our incapability to adopt, but because our cultural heritage was defined as “Indian/Pakistani”. Having both been born and raised in the UK, we felt it was not fair that priority was given to White/European adopters and for us to be excluded from the application process.

“The child’s welfare is most important of all and, while we believe that factors such as race and religion should be taken into account, we don’t believe decisions prohibiting couples from applying to adopt should be solely based on this, rather a number of factors should be looked at.

“We are young, happily married for almost ten years, financially secure, and we have a home with space to adopt more than one child. We know this shouldn’t have guaranteed us approval, but we felt it should have at least got us to the point to make an application.

“To add to the frustration, we were further disappointed by the complaints procedure at RBWM. Even having alerted the leader of the council to our discrimination complaint, which he acknowledged, we were bewildered with the missed deadlines for official responses and their failure to investigate.

“We are now focusing on intercountry adoption from the USA and are very pleased and excited we have been approved for this. But we hope by revealing our treatment within the domestic system, we can raise awareness of this issue and help other couples from different ethnic backgrounds to be considered fairly, rather than being rejected at the first hurdle as we were.”

The Commission is supporting the Manders in this legal action due to concerns that the policy applied by the council amounts to racial discrimination as that appears to be the sole factor that the term ‘cultural heritage’ has been based on. It is important that local authorities and adoption agencies apply the law about adoption correctly and the Commission is concerned that if they don’t other couples will be unlawfully discriminated against because of their race.

Notes to editors

The Local Government Ombudsman has confirmed that they will not now progress an investigation as the Manders have issued court proceedings.

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