I was told I couldn't adopt a child... 'because I didn't have frizzy hair': 25 years after she was adopted in Sri Lanka by her white parents, a selfless mother's shocking tale of bureaucrats obsessed with race
By AMY OLIVER
PUBLISHED: 22:06, 20 July 2013 | UPDATED: 22:06, 20 July 2013
Isabelle Coad couldn’t have wished for a happier childhood – despite being abandoned at birth in her native Sri Lanka by her 16-year-old mother who had been raped.
She was adopted by an English couple who brought her to Britain and raised her along with their natural sons in the leafy suburbs of Loughborough.
She realised that her life had been so enriched by the experience that at the age of 23 she decided to follow in her adoptive parents’ footsteps and adopt a foreign child so she could transform his life.
Isabelle Coad, who was an orphan in Sri Lanka as a child, with her son Nathaniel who she adopted from an orphanage in Uganda
But she hadn’t bargained for the politically correct bureaucracy that plagues Britain’s adoption process.
Even though Isabelle had been happily brought up in a mixed race family, she found that the adoption authorities seemed obsessed by ‘colour matching’.
Nathaniel had been born in Uganda and dumped in a skip at about 18 months old before being taken to an orphanage. When Isabelle found him she planned to save him from the life of poverty and pain that could have been her own fate. But the adoption authorities in the UK advised her ‘not to bother’ because the colour of his skin differed from hers.
‘They asked how I could look after his Afro hair and skin when it was so different from my own,’ says Isabelle, 30.
‘And then they asked how could I feed him according to his cultural needs. I don’t think Nathaniel was going to complain about not being served Ugandan food. For him, any food was a luxury.
The happy family now live in Loughborough, Leicestershire despite the difficulties involved in the adoption
‘When he was found he was suffering from malnutrition, malaria and rickets, was covered in scars from being beaten and had a cataract in his left eye.
‘He spoke a strange dialect that no one understood, and while he knew how to wash clothes, he didn’t know how to play with toys.
‘I really don’t think he would have survived if he had been left in Uganda as a street kid.
‘Some are drafted into child slavery while others become child soldiers. And there is still child sacrifice in Africa.
‘But the UK has a fixation with having the perfect arrangement when it comes to inter-racial adoption. They want parents from exactly the same background as the child. It’s ludicrous.’
Isabelle, a learning support worker, fought a five-year battle to adopt Nathaniel, at one stage moving to Uganda to ensure she could become his mother. She almost lost him to pancreatitis and narrowly escaped death herself when she was attacked by masked gunmen who opposed mixed race adoption.
But finally she was able to bring Nathaniel, who is now seven, to live with her in Loughborough.
It is testimony to Isabelle’s bravery and steely tenacity that she has been able to adopt her son and now she is equally determined to bring about a change in the law to ensure that other British families, trying to adopt within the UK, don’t fall foul of the same bureaucracy.
‘I went through hell, but I am one of the lucky ones,’ she admits. ‘The whole adoption process here is ridiculous. It needs to be reformed and made less stringent. There are so many loving families willing to take in a needy child.
‘Should we really prevent that from happening just because their skin is a different colour?’
Isabelle believes current legislation on inter-racial adoption is unclear, which in turn leads many local authorities to insist on matching children both culturally and ethnically to prospective parents. She has begun a petition in the hope of forcing a change in the law.
The situation stems from the fact that the majority of children on the adoption register in the UK are from minority ethnic backgrounds, while those wishing to adopt are predominantly white. Currently 4,600 needy and abandoned children are waiting for new parents.
It takes nearly two years to adopt a white child in Britain, but almost a year longer to adopt a black child because of the inter-racial problem.
Isabelle (right) with her sister and their adopted dad Adrian when they were two years old. They lived happily in a mix-race family
Education Minister Michael Gove – who was himself adopted – recently called for an urgent overhaul of the system, describing current law as ‘misguided’ and insisting that ‘ethnicity must not stand in the way if there is a loving family, ready and able to adopt a child.’
The Department of Education hopes the reforms, which include cutting the time it takes for a child to be adopted, are made law by the first quarter of 2014. But Mr Gove faces opposition from some of Britain’s adoption charities, which continue to insist that children’s culture and ethnicity should not be dismissed.
Isabelle’s parents, Adrian and Elisabeth, faced no such problems when in 1983 they adopted her from Sri Lanka, along with another baby, Miriam, who had been abandoned on the steps of a school.
Adrian had worked in Sri Lanka and, at that time, Britain had an adoption agreement with the country. The couple had two boys of their own – Gregory, then six, and Alexander, three. They wanted a larger family but Elisabeth was unable to have more children.
Mr Coad, 65, recalls: ‘We wanted two girls so they could have each other. There was no problem with the inter-racial thing.’
Nathaniel never wants to return to Uganda. Hugging Isabelle, he says: ‘It’s a scary place.’
Isabelle was never keen on having children of her own but became interested in adopting when she volunteered to work at the Amani Baby Cottage orphanage in Uganda. Nathaniel arrived there in 2006, in an appalling physical condition.
It was a time when Madonna and Angelina Jolie were adopting children from different ethnic backgrounds, making the process look easy. The reality, however, was vastly different. When the British Embassy in Kampala failed to provide any information on adoption and Isabelle drew a blank on the internet, she phoned Leicestershire County Council for help.
‘They basically told me not to do it and questioned my ability to look after an African child,’ she says. ‘That’s when they asked the ridiculous question about being able to tend to his hair.’
After working at the orphanage for several months, Isabelle was no stranger to the atrocities that people inflicted on unwanted children. One baby had been thrown into a latrine and lay there for several days before being found. Another premature baby was found in a sealed plastic bag, out in the rain. He was placed in a broken incubator and kept warm with a kerosene lamp. Miraculously, he pulled through.
Amid such atrocities, Nathaniel’s story hardly stood out but, after nursing him back to health over several months, Isabelle developed a deep bond with him.
‘I didn’t go to Africa with the intention of adopting a child, but I just knew then that God wanted me to adopt Nathaniel,’ she says.
Back home, Isabelle began research and discovered that under Ugandan law, any prospective parent must become a resident of the country for a minimum of three years in order to foster a child before adopting them. So in 2008 she decided to move there to foster Nathaniel, unsure of when or if she would return to Britain.
Isabelle had been orphaned in Sri Lanka (pictured) but was adopted by white parents
She found work as a teacher in an international school and was soon fast-tracked to become its co-ordinator on a much higher salary. This infuriated many locals, some of whom were also unhappy about her adoption bid.
Nathaniel was taken away from her twice before the attack by masked gunmen, who broke into Isabelle’s compound at 3am.
‘I had to run through the grounds to let the security guard in,’ Isabelle says. ‘I didn’t think about being shot, I just ran for my life.’ The thugs fled. ‘I was told if they come with guns they’re there to kill you. And afterwards I was told it was because of the adoption. But I wasn’t prepared to give up; I couldn’t just leave Nathaniel as an orphan again.’
Isabelle is convinced she was given a hard time by the Ugandans because she was Asian – a hangover from former dictator Idi Amin’s days, and his expulsion of the country’s 80,000 Asians in 1972.
In 2009, after two failed attempts, Isabelle, who is single, finally brought Nathaniel to England for six months just in time for Christmas. By this time she had established legal guardianship. ‘It was so special and such a relief to be home,’ she says. ‘He kept talking about the Christmas lights and also saw snow for the first time.’
Then in April 2010, Nathaniel was rushed to hospital with a suspected perforated bowel and spent five days in intensive care. Doctors diagnosed pancreatitis caused by an infection. Luckily, he has suffered no lasting effects.
After a lengthy fight she was finally able to bring Nathaniel, who is now seven, to live with her in Loughborough (pictured)
The pair never returned to Uganda and, instead, later that year Isabelle decided to adopt him in Britain. Initially she was told she was unlikely to succeed but in December 2011, and completely out of the blue, she received a letter from Nottingham County Court, inviting her to celebrate Nathaniel’s adoption. ‘I was not expecting that at all,’ Isabelle says. ‘I called my dad and then went to Nathaniel’s school to tell him. He was so happy.’
Looking at Nathaniel today, no one would believe what he’s been through. Dressed in a smart Ralph Lauren shirt – ‘an eBay bargain’ – he zooms around chatting in perfect English. His laughter fills the family’s four-bedroom house, but he listens attentively to his story – his mother has never tried to hide it from him.
He never wants to return to Uganda. Hugging Isabelle, he says: ‘It’s a scary place.’
Yesterday a Leicestershire County Council spokesman said: ‘We work hard to find secure and loving homes for the children in our care. The priority for adoption agencies across the UK is the welfare of each child, and although we have no record of this discussion, it would be normal to explore people’s suitability as an adopter.’
lFind Isabelle’s petition about inter-racial adoption here.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2371676/I-told-I-adopt-child--I-didnt-frizzy-hair-25-years-adopted-Sri-Lanka-white-parents-selfless-mothers-shocking-tale-bureaucrats-obsessed-race.html#ixzz2Zey76tXF
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