Strengthening trans-racial families in South Africa. Image supplied

Strengthening trans-racial families in South Africa

What does it mean to be a trans-racial family? What are the challenges faced by trans-racial families in SA?


Strengthening trans-racial families in South Africa. Image supplied

In South Africa, with its racially divided past, families made up of people of different races are still uncommon in many parts of the country.

These families often face racism, whether subtle or overt. Beverley Beukes, MD of Oasis Haven, a registered Child and Youth Care Centre (CYCC) with two family homes in Robin Hills, Johannesburg, says that it’s important to be aware of this reality, particularly when it comes to trans-racial adoptions.

“Upwards of 80% of our children that get adopted become part of a trans-racial family life,” she says.

“Adopted children will face many challenges as they strive to find their place in the world. When these children are a different race from their adoptive family, the dynamics get that much more complex. We’ve seen many successful trans-racial adoptions of children who have been in our care, and in our experience, while it isn’t always an easy journey, parenting never is.”

Beukes, a social worker who has been working with orphaned and vulnerable children for more than 20 years, is mother to four children and fostering another, and three of these children are different races to her. Simone Oketch, social worker at Oasis Haven, has a Master’s degree in social work, and also has a trans-racial family.

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The two women have put their education and their professional and personal experience to use in authoring a guide called Strengthening Families in a South African Context, sponsored by Ambassadors for Good, which provides an overview of foster care, adoption and family preservation, as well as guidance for statutory and adoption social workers on supporting families.

“The truth is that as a cross-cultural family, you will hear racist jokes and comments from friends and co-workers who don’t understand why they are offensive,” says Oketch. “You will have to get used to encountering hostility.”

Oasis Haven was founded in 2000 and over its 21 years has cared for 113 children, 45 of whom have been adopted, and 20 who have been reunified with biological family. Beukes and Oketch are therefore well placed to provide guidance to those considering adoptions and trans-racial adoptions.


In their guide, they suggest that it is not enough to fight against racism directed only at one’s own family members’ ethnic backgrounds: trans-racial families must demonstrate love, respect, and acceptance for all ethnicities, not just those represented in their family unit.

“It is important that parents strive to understand what it means to be a trans-racial family,” they write.

“Too many parents enter into a trans-racial adoption with the intention of becoming a ‘white family with a black child’. Once you adopt trans-racially your family has been forever changed. You are a new family with a shared ethnic identity.”

Couples of different races (whether or not they have children together) are also a new family unit with a new, shared identity.

“There is always the possibility that you will uncover opposition to your family,” says Beukes. “When it comes to your children, you need to understand that their experience all through life will be a vastly different experience from yours. No matter how close you are – you will never truly know how it feels to be them.”


  • How far are you willing to go to become a trans-racial family?
  • Can you create an environment in which everyone in your family feels valued, loved, and accepted?


“Most likely, you will be able to identify some areas in your current lifestyle where some changes can be made when you become a parent to a child of another race,” says Oketch.

“This might be as simple as finding racially diverse toys and books. It might mean changing churches, schools or suburbs to be part of a more racially diverse community. Whatever you do, your decision should be centred on your desire to truly become a trans-racial family.”

Beukes adds that for families with adopted children and birth children, such as her own, the entire family should engage in cross-cultural activities. “You’re in it as a family,” she says.

“Looking to diversify your family is not just for the benefit of the adopted child. Your entire family is now trans-racial, and all races are equally important in shaping your family’s experience. If the activities you do are seen as ‘for the adopted child’, they may do more damage than good. Adopted children also need to see positives in the culture they are being adopted into. Yes, they need to have positive feelings about their own race. This is very important! But they also need to see the wonderful attributes of their parents’ cultures. They need to know that they belong to your family. For small children, this may mean pointing out things like having the same number of hands, eyes, toes, and ears. For older children, it’s acknowledging similar interests or habits with a parent or sibling, or creating new traditions as a family.”

She says that a good bond between adults and children develops mostly as a result of lasting, loving and everyday care, and not only because a child is genetically related or looks similar to the parent.