This paper brings together an autoethnographic account of adoption with post-colonial theoretical insights to propose a different approach to education programmes for prospective adoptive parents. By examining the adoption–migration nexus as one encounter within a broader history of global migrations, a post-colonial lens foregrounds the importance of race in the governance of (trans)national adoption and blurs the boundaries between forced and voluntary adoption. Preparing the adoptive parent community to understand the extent to which migration and adoption are implicated in racialising practices is critical if they are to support their non-white children in a context of rising nationalism and xenophobia. It is argued that social work education programmes must take up a more radical pedagogical agenda that questions normative understandings of class, race, ethnicity, gender and nation. This means developing an awareness that contemporary transnational adoption practices are entwined with the silent residues of an ‘illiberal’ past. Loving and caring familial relations, while crucially important for the emotional well-being of adoptees, cannot, by themselves, be a substitute for respect and belonging in the public sphere. A more politicised subjectivity of adoptive parents is called for.