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The Best Thing In The World
By Oona King

Oona King and son IlyaOne mixed-race couple in London was declared unfit to adopt a British mixed-race child because their six-year-old daughter did not know what a swastika was.

Earlier this year I stood in the dusty doorway of an African orphanage in the Congo, rage consuming me as I watched two babies moan in pain. They were covered in flies and filth, misery etched on their faces. Their eyes were sealed with mucus. Tiny stick arms hung limply over distended stomachs.

By 2003, we had realised we were getting nowhere and decided to look for a child in Britain instead. After all, children here need parents too and I hoped there would be a bit more help and guidance available, even if the rules were likely to be strict. But I was in for a shock.

Yet again I was confronted with a mountain of bureaucracy, but this time - initially at least - mixed with a political correctness that would be laughable were the results not so distressing.

At one point I was told there was a 'problem' with my application because I described myself as mixed-race. 'We don't use that term,' explained the white social worker, on the advice of a black social worker. 'These days you are called dual heritage.'

Then there was the official who told me I was not suitable to be an adoptive parent because I was an MP. When I pointed out that other politicians had adopted children, I was told bluntly that 'they were men. They had a wife at home'.

Over the years, I have seen potentially wonderful parents deterred or rejected by social workers who, despite the best intentions, were either misguided or plain incompetent.

One mixed-race couple in London was declared unfit to adopt a British mixed-race child because their six-year-old daughter did not know what a swastika was. This was cause for concern, they were told, because the mother and daughter walked past graffiti on the way to school and the mother had not taken the time to explain the significance of the symbol.

I was angered by the ridiculous claim that my life as an MP meant I could not be a mother and was determined to put up a fight. However, in the 2005 Election I found my seat challenged by George Galloway, who was standing as an anti-war candidate. I decided that no sane individual would choose to have Social Services and Galloway on their back at the same time. 'If you lose the Election,' said the social worker, 'come back to us.'

I didn't fail on purpose. In fact I worked night and day and lost by only 800 votes. The result, professionally speaking, left me devastated, not to mention unemployed. Yet this political disaster also gave me more time to concentrate on starting a family and, despite the heartache of the Election, my story has turned out to be a happy one.

After yet more hours of meetings and negotiations, and thanks in part to the most enormous slice of good fortune, I find myself the mother of a delightful baby boy.

My child arrived on a sunny day three months ago - or, rather, that is when we drove to meet him for the first time. It was the happiest moment of my life. I loved every second of the journey to the foster home with a white picket fence where 13-month-old Ilya lived. As we turned the corner into his street I felt I was on gas and air. Tiberio was amazed to fall instantly in love with our son. I expected nothing less.

It was not fame or money that brought us our beautiful boy, it was our genes. In my view, Social Services put too high a premium on colour and are restrictive in their insistence on finding the right ethnic match. Black children must go to black families, Asian children to Asian families and so on.

Perversely, despite my reservations, the emphasis on ethnic matching worked in our favour thanks to the diligence of half a dozen social workers to whom I am forever grateful. A child of mixed African-European descent had been identified in Essex. Because this was a similar mix to us as a couple, we went to the front of the queue.


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