The politics of Matching: Ethnicity, Religion and Muslim-heritage Children in Care in the UK

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In 2014, in order to improve outcomes for children from ethnic minority backgrounds and to speed up the adoption process, the UK government changed the Children and Families Act. The legal requirement on adoption agencies to consider ethnicity in the decision around 'matching' was removed, thus clearing the way for transracial placements. This article interrogates the impact of the change in law on social work practice around adoption, using the experiences of diverse Muslim-heritage children as a case study. Grounded in the sociology of religion, the findings presented here are based on semi-structured qualitative interviews (n=28) with those involved in the care of Muslim-heritage children. In discussing qualitative findings, all adopters and prospective adopters interviewed in this research insisted on adopting children who 'look like them', and social workers continued to look for the 'best' possible matches. Children from minoritised backgrounds continue to wait for long periods before finding permanent homes. Our evidence raises questions about the efficacy of policy guidance. Based on this evidence we conclude that greater strategizing is needed around the recruitment of adopters from diverse backgrounds.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4571-4587
Number of pages17
JournalThe British Journal of Social Work
Issue number8
Early online date20 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced version of an article accepted for publication in The British Journal of Social Work following peer review. The version of Cheruvallil-Contractor, S, Halford, A & Boti Phiri, MJ 2022, 'The politics of Matching: Ethnicity, Religion and Muslim-heritage Children in Care in the UK', The British Journal of Social Work, vol. 52, no. 8, pp. 4571-4587. is available online at:

Copyright © and Moral Rights are retained by the author(s) and/ or other copyright owners. A copy can be downloaded for personal non-commercial research or study, without prior permission or charge. This item cannot be reproduced or quoted extensively from without first obtaining permission in writing from the copyright holder(s). The content must not be changed in any way or sold commercially in any format or medium without the formal permission of the copyright holders.

This document is the author’s post-print version, incorporating any revisions agreed during the peer-review process. Some differences between the published version and this version may remain and you are advised to consult the published version if you wish to cite from it.


The research was funded by the Department of Education (through grant to charity Penny Appeal).


  • adoption
  • looked-after children
  • matching
  • minoritisation
  • religion
  • transracial placements


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