Charlotte adopted Toby*, who has Caribbean heritage, through Vale, Valleys, and Cardiff Adoption Service after a period of fostering him through her local authority. She shares why it's been so important to nurture and celebrate Toby's cultural heritage and why education is crucial.
I have two sons, one who has white skin and then Toby who has black skin. We do not differentiate between them; they are both equally special. I’ll always celebrate Toby for who he is, including his skin colour and his lovely afro hair, just like I celebrate my other son’s mixed European-Asian background. The colour of his skin is something that makes him a little bit different to us, along with the various personality traits and hobbies he has that make him unique.
Toby is black and has Caribbean heritage, the rest of our family is white.
When out, we’ve had a few people look up and down at my husband and I, and then at Toby, confused. Some have even assumed that we’re his grandparents. I don’t react, explain, or correct people - adopting Toby is our business, not theirs.
Toby has friends from a wide range of cultures and backgrounds. Children of his age (Toby is four years old) are so innocent and aren’t bothered by skin colour, it’s not something that’s a major concern until recently. During the summer, another child said to him “Go away, I’m not playing with you, you’re black.” I was shocked after hearing this. I approached the other child’s mum, who was mortified. But my initial thought was that it’s not my problem or responsibility to educate other people’s children about race and heritage. I explain this to Toby, and I hope that he understands that their lack of understanding and education is not his problem.
Practicalities and preparing for the future
As Toby is only four years old, he’s too busy being his goofy self to have any questions about his heritage. He can identify that his skin is a different colour, but it doesn’t go much further than that right now.
When he decides he wants to know more about who he is and the history/heritage of his birth family, then we have everything in place to help him with that. We have photos of his birth parents available to him so he can see where he came from and why he looks the way he looks. We’ll also explore and research the parts that we’re unsure of, so he can feel assured about his background.
Neither of his birth parents have travelled to the Caribbean but I would like to take him there one day so he can learn more about his culture and heritage. We travel quite a lot, so I have no doubt that he’ll visit Jamaica and other Caribbean islands soon. We are also mindful of my husband’s heritage (Polish, Portuguese, and Burmese) and are open to sharing that with Toby so he can learn about other backgrounds too.
Toby has afro hair, so we take him to a barber that knows how to cut and style afro hair properly. I also use lots of specialist products on his hair to keep it in good condition, like the Cantu range which was recommended to me. Toby is already asking for twists and braids in his hair, but our barber doesn’t recommend it right now as he’s too young but we will support him with this as he gets older.
Our son loves trying all different types of foods. We’ve made a lot of effort to introduce him to special Caribbean food like jerk chicken, banana porridge, and other dishes to introduce associations with his heritage.
My advice to anyone considering adoption is to not exclude children from other backgrounds and cultures from potential matches, and not to hyper-fixate on it from the moment you make that decision to adopt.
Celebrating their identity and heritage is important. So, educate yourself and be ready to learn about their heritage so you can share information and answer their questions when they have them.
*Charlotte’s son’s name has been changed for safeguarding purposes.