A British couple who claim they were advised they couldn’t adopt a “white child” because of their Indian heritage have taken a council to court in a landmark discrimination case.
Sandeep and Reena Mander, from Maidenhead, Berks, allege they were refused an application to join a register of approved adopters because of their Asian ancestry and told their chances would be improved if they looked to adopt in India or Pakistan.
The couple began a four-day court battle at Oxford County Court on Tuesday against Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council after suing them for discrimination. Their case has been backed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
The council has rejected claims its social workers were “racist” towards the couple. While an adoption official told the court she deferred the couple’s application because they wanted to care for a “a young under-three years old, simple needs child”.
The Manders, who are aged in their 30s, showed an interest in adopting a child after attending a seminar in 2015 by Adopt Berkshire, the council’s adoption service, and were encouraged to submit an application.
Mr Mander, the Vice President in charge of sales at an IT company, told the court of the couple’s desire to apply and that he was asked to identify his ethnic origin upon ringing the adoption agency.
However, when he stated that they were both born and raised in Britain but their parents were born in India, Mr Mander claimed that he was told that they were unlikely to be approved as potential adopters due to their “Indian background”, because only white children were available in Berkshire and the surrounding area.
Although the Manders live in a five-bedroom house in Maidenhead, Berks, and claim they were willing to offer any child a loving home and indeed were otherwise suitable to adopt, Adopt Berkshire claimed that it would still not let them apply to join the approved adopters’ register because of their “Indian heritage”.
The couple told the court that this was a simple case of direct discrimination on the grounds of race, in breach of Section 13 of the Equality Act 2010 and the European Convention on Human Rights.
They claim they should not have been rejected from joining the approved adopters’ register because of where their parents were born.
Mrs Mander, a programme manager, told the court she heard her husband on the phone during a conversation with Adopt Berkshire.
“I could hear from his voice that something wasn’t right, his tone was shocked,” she said. “I heard something about cultural heritage,” she told the court. “I felt that I should have the same right to enter the process as anyone else.”
The court also heard from Hilary Loades who was Adopt Berkshire’s “gatekeeper”, and who rejected their adoption application.
Under cross-examination, she said she “deferred the application indefinitely” because the couple wanted “a young under-three years old, simple needs child” but the council had a lot of older vulnerable children who needed placing for adoption so she told Mr and Mrs Mander to “come back another time”.
She added: “At the time, they were seeking placement for a single young child which did not match the criteria. There was nothing to suggest they were not suitable.
“Many adopters are looking for children who do not have complex needs and most children in the local authority do. We were recruiting, we weren’t recruiting to them.”
Katherine Foster, defence barrister representing the council, which deny all the couple’s claims, told Mrs Mander: “You are now determined to attribute racism to these social workers. You interpreted it as being racist when it was not”.
Giving evidence, Mrs Mander said that on April 25 2017 a social worker, Shirley Popat, telephoned the couple.
“She confirmed she would not accept our application due to our cultural heritage and our only other option was to adopt from India or Pakistan,” she said.
The Manders have since successfully adopted a young boy from America.
During cross-examination, Ms Foster told Mrs Mander: “In your application [to adopt in the USA], you stated you wanted a child who was white or Hispanic. You wanted a child who looked more like you.”
Mrs Mander replied: “I do not look white and I do not look Hispanic. We were advised not to tick every box, we did not mind what ethnicity the child was, we were willing to offer any child a loving home.
“All the correspondence felt like it was the colour of my skin which was why we were rejected.”
The case continues.