Black History Month: A black kinship carer’s perspective
3 minute read
To mark Black History month, I am writing about my experience as a black kinship carer.
I feel all kinship carers should be seen in the same way. We are friends and family members who step in to love, support and care for children who are unable, for whatever reason, to be cared for by their birth parent(s). And we should be properly supported to do so, for the benefit of the child(ren) we care for, regardless of colour. However, as a black carer, I have had experiences, specific to me, that I felt I want to highlight.
From the beginning of my process, I felt that I was in a weakened position. My niece had been removed and placed in foster care from birth. The lack of parallel planning from the local authority meant they failed to contact my family before court proceedings were initiated. Had the court not ordered them to engage with us, I believe my niece would have been adopted.
I was still committed to building a working partnership with children’s services for the benefit of my niece. I actively tried to explain the cultural norms of black families in general, and specifically our own to social workers.
Despite my best efforts, throughout my assessment and the court process there were numerous occasions when my family and I would be asked questions, predominately to do with our culture. Although we expressed our views fully, later we would be subject to misinterpretations of what we had said, followed by sweeping stereotypical references regarding our cultural experiences which left us feeling hurt and that our cultural identity was invisible to professionals.
I did worry that if I challenged the professionals too often, as I had the right to do, it would result in me receiving a negative assessment and lose my niece forever.
I clearly recall a particular issue which may not seem important to some but was significant to my family and I. Having seen the condition of my niece’s skin and afro hair during contact we expressed to professionals, the importance of the appropriate products and treatment of my niece’s afro hair and her skin care. As a result of this regime not being undertaken, she was not, in our opinion, being properly cared for.
The social worker dismissed our views, refusing to address this issue in my niece’s support plan. As a result, she continued to suffer with dry, picky hair and skin which was irritating to a small child. This could have so easily been addressed but was not until she came into my care.
I appreciate that all kinship carers, regardless of colour, are required to have a “viability assessment”. I desperately want local authorities to view an initial or viability assessment as a means of discovering how they can support and promote best practice. I feel that when working with black families, the social workers should be supported to acknowledge the impact of the process on these families and taught how to identify and challenge the cultural barriers that may exist. If they were able to do so, I feel that it would improve their overall understanding and thereby the quality of their assessments.
Black children are currently over-represented in the care system. I fear that there isn’t enough being done to address the racial disparity which results in them spending longer periods in care.
The recent Independent Review of Children’s Social Care recommended Early Family Help and called for the government to invest in early intervention for vulnerable children and families at risk of crisis. Whilst I think this is excellent my wish would be that greater focus during implementation of the recommendations focuses address racial inequality, informed by more research on the impact on black communities and trauma informed practice which is inclined to represent cultural competency.