A family mixture

Many upwardly mobile black couples are choosing to adopt non-related children, rather than take in their brother or sister’s children.

There has in the past been an issue around the adoption of non-related children in black communities, despite the fact that it is common to take in related children such as nephews and nieces. However, according to Pam Wilson who heads the adoption team at Jo’burg Child Welfare, this attitude is changing.

These couples know they will be spending a lot of time, love and money on the child and they don’t want the child to finally return to their family of origin after months of bonding and getting to know that child. However, Wilson adds that the trend is not reversing fast enough to cope with the large numbers of children currently needing adoption.

Nombulelo Mabombo, assistant director at Jo’burg Child Welfare, says that traditionally it has been expected that black families take care of their own communities and extended families. But more black families recognize that due to circumstances such as HIV/Aids there are more and more orphaned children that need to be cared for. Mabombo says that black families are extending their support beyond their own communities to offer orphaned children a loving home.

Black child, white folks
Marihet Infantino of The Child and Family Unit (CFU) at Jo’burg Child Welfare, says that white families have become more comfortable with adopting black children. This is particularly the situation with younger couples. In the case of white couples adopting, the extended family are usually the most vocal about their concerns of having a black niece or nephew or black grandchild.

Infantino says that there are numerous challenges that face white couples who adopt black children.

Infantino tells a story about an experience she had with a mother and her adoptive daughter. The mother struggled to deal with and care for her daughter’s hair and when the child came home one day asking for blonde streaks, the mother decided to find a salon for African hair. The women at the salon explained to the mother how to care for her daughter’s hair with certain treatments and products. This experience was stressful for the mother and is a small example of the complexities of such an adoption.

Language can also be a problem. In the case of an open adoption, where the birthmother still has contact with the child and the adoptive parents, some black children struggle to communicate with and relate to their birth parents as they get older and more accustomed to their new environments.

‘These children may also be labeled as “coconuts” by their peers at school,’ says Infantino. This is a common phrase for black people who live more western lifestyles. In turn these children may start to feel alienated from their friends and their cultural heritage creating questions and concerns around their identity.

Infantino recommends the rainbow support group where inter-race adoption parents can get support and advise on how to care for their children as best as they can.

The challenges associated with adopting a child who is different to you should not make you hesitant to adopt. The orientation and screening process are designed to help and support families with their integration.
For more info email Jo’burg Child Welfare at communications@jhbchildwelfare.org.za or visit Jo’burg Child Welfare’s website.

Have you faced any cultural obstacles to adopting? Do you think attitudes are changing?

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