by PFAN steering group
Writing at this time we need to acknowledge what is happening around the world. Anna Gupta’s impassioned editorial for Social Work 2020 under covid-19 lays out how the injustice rightly felt in the Black Lives Matter movement speaks not just to America but to racism in the UK too.
We believe that the child protection system here, in the US and in many other rich English speaking countries, has become a force of oppression for children and their families, and particularly Black and Minority Ethnic children and families, rather than being a force for liberation and hope.
English speaking countries have modelled our child protection systems on the US where during their lifetime 37% of all children and more than half of all African American children were investigated due to notifications of concerns. Where African American, Native American and other minorities are over-represented in children in state care. Where being in poverty exposes you to a social work whose approach is too often to locate blame rather than emancipate. In other countries we also see large proportions of Aboriginal, Maori and First Nation people subject to investigation and child removals. In the UK, as in other English speaking wealthy nations, child protection systems focus on people living in deprived communities in which, because of racism, many Black and Minority Ethnic families live.
In England even when deprivation is taken into account, Black African-Caribbean families are over-represented within the British child protection system. Black Caribbean children are over twice as likely to be in care as White British children.
Angela Babb, a black woman who lives in Stoke Newington, felt that racism was a factor in her treatment. At a time when two of her five children had been removed by social services, she had been without any news of their well-being or whereabouts for three weeks. All she was told by social services was that her 4 and 5-year-old were continuing to be questioned by the police. She recalls:
“I was so worried about them, and my other children just didn’t understand why their sisters had disappeared. If social workers were involved, they weren’t talking to me. I had nowhere to turn. So finally I walked into the police station looking for help. I was hoping they could give me news of my children, or even that I might be allowed to see them—but instead the police threw me in a cell! All I could think of was that my little girls must be upstairs in the same building being interviewed. I hadn’t done anything wrong, but the police kept me locked up for a good couple of hours. Instead of treating me with respect, they just said, ‘You’re not going anywhere near your kids!’ Racism has been going on for such a long time now. Why can’t people be treated as equals and as humans?”
The covid-19 epidemic faces society with a choice about how we do support families and children. We know it has disproportionately affected Black and Minority Ethnic groups. In the next weeks and months we need to respond to the massive cost of this pandemic. We need to find ways to support families and children that have come under stress because they have lost family members; because they have lost work and income; because there has been domestic violence; because they have had problems with mental health; because they’ve used alcohol and drugs to medicate; because they have struggled to live in inadequate housing during lockdown; because they have got into debt; because charities and other supports have reduced or disappeared; because they are threatened with homelessness.
The current approach of children’s social care is too often to individualise problems like these and to search for blame through child protection investigations.
A time for change
We need to take this moment to demand change in the way the state responds to family difficulties. State social care needs a reawakening to the core of social work’s internationally defined function that it: facilitates social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. And a reawakening to its principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility and respect for diversities.
We need to plan for an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality to follow this spring and summer of lockdowns, illness and death that have disproportionately affected people in poor and excluded communities.