Irene Levine responds to the Stable Homes, Built on Love: Implementation Strategy and Consultation report
When I read the Government’s response Stable Homes, Built on Love: Implementation Strategy and Consultation, I was deeply disappointed. The near complete lack of attention paid to the lived experiences and outcomes of children from a global majority background was stark. In the document, over 220 pages in length, there were only 15 mentions of ‘ethnicity’ and two of ‘religion’ and not a single mention of either ‘identity’, ‘transracial’ or ‘racism’.
We all know the facts. Children and young people from Black backgrounds are disproportionately more likely to live in poverty, be excluded from school, be obese, be stopped and searched, be arrested. They are also overrepresented in the care system and as children in need. Black social workers are less likely to progress in their career and many experience racism from both the families they work with and colleagues. The majority of senior social work leaders, foster cares and adopters are white.
These are, sadly, familiar facts for most of us working in children’s social care which is why I was pleased that the impact of racism and the importance of identity was acknowledged in the recent independent review of children’s social care. CoramBAAF’s Black and Minority Ethnic Perspectives Advisory Committee (BMEPAC), which I chair, had submitted evidence to the review highlighting a number of issues relating to Black children and young people:
- Importance of intersectional approaches, urging the review to take an intersectional approach to consider how diversity, social inequality and poverty impact the lived experiences of children and to take account of the disadvantage implications of all protected characteristics on parents and adults as well as children in families, including the central importance of women’s rights and experiences of oppression.
- Community engagement and valuing the contribution of Black and minority ethnic families and their willingness to care for children from their community. A deficit-based approach undervalues and undermines the attributes, resources and assets that Black and minority ethnic families have. A focus on listening and engaging with Black lives and experiences including experiences of racism is fundamental to the progression of anti-racist practice.
- Culturally informed policy and law, including reinstating the requirement that in placing a child for adoption, the agency must give due consideration to the child’s religion, racial origin, culture and language.
- Racism and mental health, consider and mitigate the impact of racism on mental wellbeing, especially for unaccompanied asylum seeking (UASC) children and young people.
- Improved data collection on racial inequality at governmental and local level. The ongoing lack of research and policy attention to the substantial ethnic inequalities in child welfare and child protection is not acceptable. We believe it represents a scandalous missed opportunity to learn about protective factors in our children’s lives and how to genuinely improve outcomes.
As a social worker of over 40 years, I have firsthand experience of the harm caused when race, ethnicity and culture is not addressed for our children and young people, and the absolute centrality of ensuring our children in care are supported to explore and make sense of their own heritage and identity.
This is a missed opportunity to ensure the children and young people in our – the state’s - care get the support and attention they need in their day to day lives, whether that is appropriate hair or skin care, cooking food from their culture, celebrating their cultural holidays or festivities. And perhaps most importantly making sense of and developing their own identity, their history and family and what that means to them.
Irene Levine, Chair of CoramBAAF’s Black and Minority Ethnic Perspectives Advisory Committee (BMEPAC).