British couple claims racial discrimination during adoption process

A British couple is taking legal action against a government adoption agency for alleged discrimination. Reena and Sandeep Mander said they were told they couldn't adopt because the available babies were white and they are of Indian heritage.

It's hard to think of a couple more suited for adoption than the Manders, reports CBS News correspondent Charlie D'Agata, who visited them at home. Both are successful professionals who live in a big house with plenty of empty bedrooms. And yet they were discouraged to even try, they say, because of the color of their skin.

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Sandeep and Reena Mander

CBS News

About the only thing missing in the Manders' life is a child to share it with.

"Not just, 'Oh, we want to have a family, we want to have a child,' but also to do some good as well, to give a child a loving home," Reena said.

Heaven knows they've tried. Reena underwent 16 rounds of IVF treatments.

"We did get pregnant once, and unfortunately I miscarried at 10 weeks," she recounted.

After six years of heartbreak, of trying and failing, they decided to adopt. But when they contacted the local government's adoption agency, Sandeep said he was told he shouldn't bother to apply.

"'You're not going to be prioritized here, so you should probably go and look elsewhere,'" Sandeep said he was told.

"They told you to look elsewhere?" D'Agata asked.

"Yeah, because their view was that there's a lack of children in the system," Sandeep said. "And the children they've got tend to be white, so they would have many white-European adopters available that were looking for children, so we wouldn't be prioritized."

In short, white babies go first to white couples, though the Manders say they didn't care what color their baby would be. They were pushed to the back of the line, right from the start.

In fact, they said they were advised to try India, even though Sandeep and Reena are both proudly British, born and raised. Neither even has family in India.

"I just felt as though everything we'd been through, this was another obstacle. It wasn't just an obstacle, it was preventing you from moving on at all," Reena said. "For me, it was like, 'Where do we turn now?'"

Their local member of Parliament, Theresa May, who has since become prime minister, wrote a letter of support on their behalf.

The couple has now filed legal action against the adoption agency, claiming racial discrimination. The agency denies discrimination, saying they "properly take into account of the profile of children available for adoption" and "given the disparity between the large number of prospective parents and small number of adoptees, it's appropriate to prioritize those who have the best chance of adopting a child."

"It is absolutely considered best practice and ethical to take race into account. That's different than saying it's the controlling factor," said Adam Pertman, author of the book "Adoption Nation" and president of the U.S. National Center on Adoption and Permanency.

"I think we live in a culture where we understand race can be an issue. But in child placement, in child welfare, and by this country and by law in Great Britain, this is not supposed to happen," Pertman said.

Reena said it's the only time in her life she's ever been made to feel different. They're now planning to adopt a child from the United States, where they have family and new reason to hope.

"Only when we are coming back from the U.S. on an airplane with that child in our hands with all the paperwork and everything else, only I think then I will — it will actually sink in. Before then, you know, it's going to be a turbulent journey," she said.

It's a journey that may finally have a happy ending. Nine months after they were first turned away, the Manders did receive notice that circumstances had changed and there may be children available after all. But by then they were already in the process of adopting in the U.S.