Thousands of children have lost the chance of a decent life because of the ban on mixed-race adoption, the state equality chief has admitted.
Trevor Phillips said it was his greatest regret that he failed to challenge the race rules which denied children the chance of a loving family and instead left them at the mercy of a failing care system.
Changes could have been made 10 years ago if the race relations watchdog had called for an inquiry, Mr Phillips said.
The acknowledgement by Mr Phillips of the damage done by the ban follows the Coalition’s decision to legislate to sweep away race rules.
The new law will reinforce guidelines already handed to social workers that tell them the need to find a family for a child is more important than their longstanding doctrine which says, for example, it is bad for a black child to be brought up by a white family.
For more than two decades adoptive parents have been strictly screened on race grounds, with many rejected because they have been judged the wrong match.
Social workers have been trained to believe that black children lose self-esteem and pride in themselves if they are not brought up by parents of the same colour.
Critics have said there is no evidence to support this theory and that race has been used as an excuse to depress the number of adoptions.
Mr Phillips, who is to step down as chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission this summer, said he should have challenged the race ban when he was appointed chief of its race relations predecessor, the Commission for Racial Equality, in 2003.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: ‘If I had to pinpoint one single thing I would say that I wish when I took over at the CRE I had been more aggressive on the issue of transracial adoption.
‘If I had ordered an inquiry, an investigation, it would have shown pretty clearly that the life chances of children would have been much much better in a family of any race compared to staying in care.
‘I would have then be able to essentially change the policy in local authorities 10 years ago.’
Mr Phillips added: ‘My personal regret is that hundreds of children, maybe thousands of children, would now be in families who got stuck in the care system. If I had to go back and do something different, I would do something about that.
‘Being in care is the surest indicator that you will end up in crime, in drugs, that you will end up unemployed, and your children will repeat your experience.’
He added: ‘I think if we had been more aggressive on this issue we could have transformed the lives of very many children. But these are things we know in hindsight.’
It was the first time Mr Phillips is thought publicly to have criticised the ban on mixed-race adoptions, although critics of the system have long held that adoption was the last area of public life in Britain in which authorities were prepared to support open racial discrimination.
History: In 2000 Tony Blair suggested that the bar to transracial adoption should go
In 2000 Tony Blair suggested that the bar to transracial adoption should go, and his Government began to publish figures illustrating how long black children had to wait for new families because of the race rules. But his 2002 Adoption Act had nothing to say about race.
Mr Phillips was the leading Labour figure on the London Assembly at the time. He went on to head the CRE and then the EHRC when it took over from all the state equality bodies in 2007.
Social workers have long been criticised for failing to back adoption for children in care, preferring to see them brought up in the care system which often means life in a children’s home or shifted repeatedly between different foster parents.
Middle class couples hoping to adopt have long been rejected on a series of flimsy grounds, including their age, their smoking habits, or their beliefs.
There are currently around 65,000 children in the care system, with numbers rising because more children are being taken into state care following the Baby P scandal in 2008.
Last year just 3,050 children were adopted from state care, among them only 60 babies under a year old, the lowest total since 2001.
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