Black Lives Matter: Child Protection and Child Placement

  • Date:

John Simmonds, Director of Policy, Research and Development

The death of George Floyd and the international response through ‘Black Lives Matter’ has confronted many countries with the reality of racism rooted in the shocking history of colonialism. This is very clearly the case in the UK. There is no doubt that while these are not new issues, the strength of emotion indicates whatever changes may have taken place over the years, there are still a wide range of fundamental issues that continue to negatively impact on the lives of black people and indeed many others from minority ethnic communities.

The protests themselves are understandably adult-focused but the issues are lifelong and include the significant and serious impact and consequences for children. It is essential that the experiences and perspectives of children run equally alongside those of adults.

The issues for black and other minority ethnic children are particularly highlighted in the child protection and child placement sector. This has been the case for many years and was prominent as adoption moved in the 1960s from the placement of white babies with white married couples to opportunities for the placement of black children or children with disabilities. The fundamental question was ‘With whom should these children be placed?’ with the assumption that black adults were unlikely to be in a position to adopt and the only option was white couples. This in turn raised a powerful protest that raising a black child in a white family deprived them of their history and heritage and was racist in intention and outcome. The history and development of these issues were super-charged and its history and development is set out in many documents published over the years.

The specific issues in relation to adoption were also replicated when black children came into care and were fostered. Similar issues were raised about the ethnicity, culture, religion and language of the child and those of the foster carers. And this was then reflected in issues such as hair and skin care, food, daily routine and on through to the fundamental questions of the development of the child’s history, heritage and a firm and workable sense of their identity – ‘Who am I and what do I think and feel about that?’ 

The focus on children must run in parallel with a full consideration being given to the carers of these children – whether adopters, foster carers or special guardians and in turn their birth family – parents, siblings and others. And alongside that must be the challenge to the workforce – particularly the views and experiences of social workers and other professionals from the black and other minority ethnic communities.

There is much more that can be said about this set of issues as they have developed over time in both adoption and fostering. What it is difficult to be confident about is the degree to which these questions have been addressed that provide a positive answer to the question ‘Do Black Lives Matter?’. The sector faces many serious challenges in its focus on the needs, safety, welfare and development of children from the Coronavirus pandemic. The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement challenges the sector with equally important issues and these must be addressed with the equal priority that they need. 

We are making this issue a priority to be addressed through discussion and evidence with the aim of setting out a change agenda that we hope will have the support of the child protection and child placement sector. If you are a CoramBAAF member, please get involved in the conversation by joining us at one of our forthcoming Practice Forum meetings.