12:16, June 27 156 0 theguardian.com

2017-06-27 12:16:03
Council refuses to back down after Sikh couple denied chance to adopt white child

A council that denied a Sikh couple the chance to adopt a child over their “cultural heritage” is refusing to back down, despite the intervention of the prime minister and the equality watchdog.

British-born Sandeep and Reena Mander said they had wanted the chance to adopt a child of any ethnic background. But they were refused the chance to apply by Windsor and Maidenhead council’s agency, Adopt Berkshire.

It said that as only white children were in need, white British or European applicants would be given preference so the couple could not put their names down as potential adopters.

Experts expressed astonishment at the case as it appears to clearly flout the Children and Families Act of 2014, which ended the practice of allowing only ethnic matches for adopted children.

The Manders’ case was taken up by their MP, Theresa May, in the form of a letter to the council, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). But despite the intervention and a round of media interviews given by the Manders on Tuesday, the council is sticking to its decision.

It also refuses to discuss the case. A spokesman said: “We do not comment on ongoing court cases.”

Wisdom da Costa, an Indian-born opposition councillor who was elected in May as an independent, said the council’s decision may have stemmed from its lack of political and racial diversity. All but six of its 57 councillors are Conservative and the vast majority are white.

“Where there is absolute domination by one political party, it allows a complacency to be regenerated. Bad decisions happen because no one is looking at them,” he said.

“We need to get to the bottom of what’s causing this misunderstanding. It is quite a white council. There are quite a few Asians, where we are really lacking is black councillors – there are none, and there are certainly no turban-wearing Sikhs on the council.

“If you get a group of people who are of one type, then by nature they are not going to appreciate the other types of cultures and communities that occur in any town especially those as diverse as Windsor and Maidenhead.”

Narinderjit Singh, general secretary of the Sikh Federation (UK) said: “The couple were offering to adopt a child needing a stable, caring and loving home. Instead they appear to have been confronted with what can only be called racism.

“The Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead clearly lack sensitivity and understanding of the situation and decision makers appear not to appreciate diversity or the law.”

The Manders say they have been forced to seek to adopt a child from overseas. Reena Mander said: “Our next steps are going through the international adoption route, but for this case itself we want to raise awareness; we want this not to happen to other couples.

“We’ve been successful in being signed off from the Department of Education to adopt from the US, the same route we would have gone through domestically, so it was hurtful that we were written off here at the first hurdle.”

In the meantime, the Manders are applying to Slough county court, seeking a declaration that the policy should allow them to adopt.

David Isaac, chair of the EHRC, 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.”

Alice Noon, head of adoption at the Coram Foundation, said she had never seen such a clear-cut case of the new adoption law being broken.

Speaking to the Guardian she said: “I am astonished because in our agency we have worked really hard to move people on to the law and their understanding of it.”

She said the case should highlight the new law and help end the old-fashioned practice of “same ways placements”.

Noon said: “It just so far off what the law says. They [the Manders] would have every grounds for complaint, because they have not been treated as they should have been. The law is really clear about prioritising all of children’s needs and not exclusively thinking about ethnicity and ethnic match.”

Speaking to BBC2’s Victoria Derbyshire show, the Manders’ lawyer, Georgina Calvert-Lee from McAllister Olivarius, said: “The Manders simply want to register their interest in adopting, as you might want to register to participate in a race, they are not asking to be allowed to win the race, they simply want to register. What they were confronted with was a denial of possibility to register, because the adoption agency thought they couldn’t win.

“That’s not how the law is meant to work. What is meant to happen is that the consideration of cultural heritage and many other factors are considered on a case-by-case basis in relation to the child, but anyone who want to adopt and is over 18 can register.

“We don’t think Adopt Berkshire is correct. It is almost like a form of segregation, which seems very anachronistic.”