Landmark case for discrimination in adoption cases

 Discrimination In Adoption

Sandeep and Reena Mander have recently won their case for discrimination by a local council, after they had been told ‘not to bother applying’ for adoption due to their Indian heritage. 

In 2016, Mr and Mrs Mander had turned to Adopt in Berkshire after spending almost 7 years at various unsuccessful attempts at IVF.   

After attending an introductory seminar by Adopt Berkshire, a local authority offering adoption services throughout Berkshire, the couple then had telephone conversations with a social worker as well as a home visit.    

It was at this stage, the couple were informed that they would not be ‘invited’ to apply via the Registration of Interest form. 

The reasons given for the decision were that the authority only had white British pre-school children available for adoption, that there were enough white British pre-approved prospective adopters who would be given priority due to their background, making any chance for the Manders remote. 

Although not completely dismissive, the social worker told them to try again in a few years or attempt an international adoption from India, providing them with the details of the Inter-country Adoption Centre. 

The Manders took legal action against Adopt Berkshire on the grounds that they were victims of unlawful direct discriminations on the grounds of race, as well as breaches of Articles 8, 12 and 14 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. 

Adopt Berkshire’s defence was that they had been refused an application to register their interest due to a policy which “gave priority to the likelihood of applicants being approved and the subsequent likelihood of having children placed with them for adoption in reasonable timescales”, and that by taking into account the requirements of section 1 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, whereby there was a necessity to match prospective adopters with children. 

Judge Clare dismissed the claims of a breach of Article 12 and 14 as the right ‘to found a family by adoption’ was not included in the article, which had been held in X v Netherlands, but that it was down to national law to decide. 

The judge did award damages however for distress and injury to feelings, in accordance with the normal principles of the Equalities Act, as well as special damages, totalling almost £120,000. 

In her summing up, the Judge stated: 

 “I consider that there is clear evidence that Mr and Mrs Mander, who I have found expressed willingness to consider a child of any ethnicity, received less favourable treatment than would a comparable couple of a different ethnicity. All of this discloses, in my judgement, what the unknown social worker stated in the very first phone call with Mr Mander, namely that Adopt Berkshire operated a policy of placing adoptive children with parents who come from the ‘same background’ – namely race.” 

Georgina Calvert-Lee from McAllister Olivarius, who represented the couple, said after the trial:  

“Today’s judgement is a victory for all British children who need loving adoptive homes, and for all the eligible, loving adoptive British families hoping to welcome them into their lives.” 

Following this landmark case Mr and Mrs Mander told the BBC: 

“This decision ensures that no matter what race, religion or colour you are, you should be treated equally and assessed for adoption in the same way as any other prospective adopter. 

“We felt there needed to be a change. This is what this case has all been about for us, to ensure discrimination like this doesn’t happen to others wishing to do this wonderful thing called adoption. 

“And today’s landmark ruling will ensure this doesn’t happen again.” 

The couple have now successfully adopted a child from the United States. 

With thousands of children awaiting adoption in the UK, and rates of adoption falling, should the adoption authority in this case not have looked further afield to place a child within a stable loving home, regardless of race.  Although it is favourable for a child to remain in the area, it is not a requirement and rates are rising for adoption and fostering outside an area.  Even the documentation by West Berkshire Council states adoptions in the area are covered by Adopt Berkshire and “Most of these applicants will, in the longer-term, adopt a child(ren) who originates from outside of their own local authority area.” 

Adoption rates have fallen by a third since 2015, and the Department of Education is actively working towards encouraging more adoptions.  Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced at the beginning of the month extra investment into the Regional Adoption Agencies. According to statistics, boys over the age of four, disabled children, black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) children and sibling groups are harder to place. The Regional Adoption Agency fund boost looked to work with people from BAME communities to encourage more adoptions.  

Although stating that they did not prioritise potential applicants that had a strict criteria for children up to the age of 2 with no additional needs, surely, Adopt Berkshire should have at the least invited the application with open arms and looked outside the region, to help a child in desperate need of a home. 


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