Academic writing on race, identity and child placements have contributed little to debates surrounding trans-racial placements. The history of this debate – still reverberating, has been explored at length throughout this research project. The purpose of this research is to provide a critical account of the available literature on children in care who have been put into transracial placements. A majority of the secondary research is focused on black children in placements with white foster carers. Followers of transracial fostering believe that children fare better ‘psychologically, emotionally and physically’ when they are placed in a different racial setting. Opponents believe that children should be brought up by foster carers of the same race in order for the child to obtain a ‘positive sense of racial identity’ (Williams, M. 1998).
This project also contributes to the debate about the contented nature of ‘black identity’ and the affects transracial placements has on forming positive ‘black identities’. Other issues covered include: examining the legal and policy frameworks with regards to the child’s cultural and identity needs which underpin children’s services. Considerations have also been given to the role of social workers in promoting the holistic needs of looked after children in foster care, in assessing their identity and cultural needs, as well as the implications and ethical dilemmas for social work practice.
The research paints no clear picture as to whether transracial placements are detrimental to children’s adjustment and overall well-being; however, arguments against transracial placements dominate the discussion. No clear arguments highlight transracial placements as being positive however a pragmatic approach has been applied by considering funding and resource limitations. As a result this research provides recommendations on transracial fostering placements within current social work practice.
‘Racial matching’ in fostering placements has sparked off one of the most heated debates in child care policy. In 1979 the Commission for Racial Equality highlighted an error in the British care system. ‘Basic cultural needs’ of black children in care were not being met. Upon reflection it became clear that it was due to an absence in the amount of knowledge and ‘eurocentric attitudes’ which ultimately led to a deficit in ‘coherent planning and culturally sensitive services’ (Barn, R. 2001). What remains a poignant reality is for some young black and ethnic minority children to feel like they have been ‘dropped in a white sea’. (Voice for the Child in Care. 2004) In the past – concerns have been raised by children in the care system of feeling a ‘sense of isolation, alienation and that the system lacks in understanding and providing a culturally insensitive provision’ (Black and in Care, 1992)
This research begins with key definitions. This will aid the reader in understanding the key concepts behind which the research evolves. As the research opens to discuss trans-racial fostering, it is key to start by looking at the diversity of the ‘looked after’ population’. The statistics provide the reader with a framework of understanding the racial make-up of children in care within the UK and will aid some understanding for the following chapters.
The next chapter covers the history and the emergence of the ‘racial matching’ policy in foster care. It discusses fostering services method to placement matching for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) children. The assessment process, key planning and decision making stages, values underpinning the policy along with support services are examined.
Integration and the issue of black identity in transracial placements have been a key theme. Dean (1993) alongside other writers highlight the need for substitute parents to encourage the child to develop a positive black identity. Assisting with the development of a black identity as well as maintaining ties with the black community are factors which authorities should take into consideration when meeting the child’s needs. (Dean, C. 1993). Therefore the research presents findings from studies carried out exploring the racial identity development of a small sample of young adults who were trans-racially placed. Arguments for and against trans-racial placements are then considered in depth taking into consideration how foster carers need to understand and negotiate diverse ethnic identities.
Using these findings, a number of best practice recommendations are made for social work practitioners. It is imperative that social care professionals working with children in care from BME backgrounds become aware of the discrimination which exists and the impact this has on those concerned. A misinterpretation of cultural needs can in turn lead to discrimination and oppression. Therefore the research touches up Neil Thompson’s (1997) PCS model – a theory which recognises oppression and discrimination from a Personal, Cultural and Structural perspective. (Thompson, N. 1997) Discussions on how practitioners working in the Fostering and Looked after Children Team need to have a bi-focal vision which will permit them to recognise the different experiences of service users and also work towards creating a structure that will tackle racism both individually and collectively, in changing policies and practices at the personal, organisational and societal levels.
Within existing research there are a number of unanswered questions regarding attachment in transracial placements. The research considers a small scale study on the attachment outcomes for children in care and suggests that those children in transracial placements experience ‘signs of psychological problems’. Having secure attachments and relationships are key for children in care, therefore when assessing foster placements a discussion will take place on how social workers should factor in the child’s ability to foster the development of a positive racial identity.
The next chapter very briefly explores how transracial placements have conventionally been a ‘one-way traffic’ of black children to white carers. Very few researchers have taken notice of this imbalance of white children being placed with black foster carers. Therefore Divine (1983) highlights an contentious issue which needs further exploration within authorities fostering teams. (Divine, D. 1983)
The above chapters have provided evidence for local authorities to enforce a legal obligation to secure a sufficient and diverse provision of quality placements in their local area’. (Department for Education and Skills, 2007). Recommendations are then made on links with family and community members in-order for local authorities to meet the cultural and identity needs of black children in care. The GSCC code of practice provides clear guidelines for good professional practice; hence the final chapters offer information on the implications of social care practitioners practice in terms of recruitment, training and consultation.
In conclusion the evidence gathered suggests that Looked after Children from BME backgrounds suffer more from long-standing ‘physical, emotional and psychological harm’ in comparison to those who are in interracial placements. However a strong argument which has heated up the debate is that without foster carers who provide a transracial placement children would either be sent to residential placements or have no placement. What has been established is that interracial placements although ideal, if unavailable then a transracial placements ought to be established using the recommendations provided.
Notes on language and terminology
The terms ‘Black’ and ‘White’ are inscribed throughout the research therefore the following meanings will apply:
‘Black’ belongs to a racial group who have dark skin especially of sub-saharan African origin. It is used within this research in a political sense to describe people of African, Caribbean descent (Brah , A. 1992).
‘White’ belongs to a racial group who have light skin coloration. It is not currently a contested term, although it does not describe actual skin colour any more than does ‘black’.
It is not the intention of the research to exclude or minimise the experiences of any group, nor to deny that identities are plural and fluid.
1.1 Children in Care
‘Looked after Children’ or ‘Children in Care’ – both are used interchangeably in literature, whether that be in the Government White Paper or authorities procedures. In principle the term ‘Children in Care’ is used for those children subject to a care/interim care order under Section 31 of the Children’s Act 1989 (Great Britain, Children’s Act 1989 s31). The term ‘looked after’ under Section 22 of the CA 1989 refers to those children in the care of the local authority (LA) under a care order or who have been provided with accommodation. (Brayne. H & Carr, H, 2005). A child is often categorised as ‘looked after’ by an LA (local authority) when they fall into the following criteria. The child is:
Accommodated by the LA at the request of a person with parental responsibility, or because they are lost or abandoned, or because there is no person with responsibility for them (Great Britain, Children’s Act 1989 s20).
Placed in the care of the LA by a court Interim Care Order or Full Care Order. (Great Britain, Children’s Act 1989 Part IV).
Subject to emergency orders to secure their immediate protection, Emergency Protection Orders or Police Orders(Great Britain, Children’s Act 1989, Part V).
Remanded by a court to the care of the LA (Great Britain: Children & Young Persons Act 1969, s23)
1.2 Ethnic population of Children in CareAs the research project opens to discuss trans-racial fostering, it is key to begin by looking at the diversity of the ‘looked after’ population. This is highlighted in the Green Paper, Care matters which provides statistical information on ethnicity alongside other basic information.
The statistics provided include information on the number of children who started to be looked after in England during the year ending 31 March 2010. All figures are based on data from the SSDA 903 return collected from all local authorities. Appendix 1 includes information on the number of looked after children, the reason a child is looked after, their legal status and their placement type.
From 31st March 2010 over 64, 400 children were looked after, an increase of 6% from 2009 and an increase of 7% since 2006. 73 per cent of children who were looked after in March 2010 were in a foster placement. As demonstrated in Table 1 (Appendix 1) the different ethnic groups are arranged separately. The largest grouping after the white children comprises the 3% of ‘other mixed background’ – a very diverse census category that is over-represented amongst children looked after to a greater extent than any of the main ethnic groups. For the attention of this research 660 children from Black or Black British backgrounds were in care in 2006. This has escalated to 850 in 2010. (Table C4 – Appendix 1)
For those children who started to be looked after during the year ending 31 March 2010, in comparison to 2009 all age groups showed an increase. Between 2009 and 2010 the number of children starting to be looked after ranging from ages 10 to 15 has continued steadily. Figure 2 below demonstrates the proportions of children who started to be looked after, for each age group, during the year ending 31 March.
According to the most recent statistics supporters of the opposition to trans-racial placements are alarmed by the ‘disproportionate number of black people in care’ (Dean, C. 1993). The statistics above assist in providing the reader with a framework of understanding the racial make-up of Looked after Children within the UK and aid some of the understanding within the following chapters.
2.1 What are Transracial placements?
Transracial or transcultural placements relate to the ‘placement of a child of one racial group and/or culture with carers, foster carers or adoptive parents of a different racial group and/or culture’ (Hudson,M 2006). For the purposes of this research ‘trans-cultural’ is taken to also include differences such as religion, language, and sexuality.
Taking a step back into history it appears that trans-racial fostering began to be practiced more widely after World War II. Children from war torn countries without families were taken in by residents within Great Britain. (Baden, A. L, 2001) Those children, who were orphaned, abandoned or their birth families were unable to take on the responsibility for care during the nineteenth and early twentieth century were placed in ‘large residential institutions’. Throughout the Second World War these children were placed with ‘substitute carers’. (Colton, et al 2007).
According to the Department of Health (1998a) history documents that children have in the past been ‘looked after’ or ‘in care’ and have been placed in ‘institutions, orphanages, foster homes, approved schools and borstals’ (Department of Health, 1998a). With an influx of racial ethnic minority children within Britain unaccompanied by their parents, a trend began for domestic fostering agencies to place ethnic minority children with white families. The concern was raised in the early 70’s about the number of Black African children who were placed with White families by the National Association for Black Social Workers (NABSW). A statement was released: ‘Preserving African American Families’ which rebuked the practice of trans-racial fostering in 1972. The issuing of the statement sparked interest in the affects that trans-racial fostering had on children in care and created an interest for research to be conducted within this area.
2.2 Foster care arrangements
The different types of foster care arrangements include: emergency, short-term, respite care, long-term placements, kinship, remand, private, in-house foster care provision, independent fostering agency provision and multi-dimensional treatment foster care. (British Association for Adoption and Fostering, 2007)
Special attention in this research will be given to ‘long term fostering placements’. Those children who are in long term placements are those who are either not adopted or not placed with extended families and subsequently placed on a permanent basis. Therefore high on the government agenda is ‘identifying permanency in placement for children when they cannot return to their birth families. (Sinclair, I. 2005)
When a child is placed with a family on a long term fostering basis it is expected that the child will mature remaining in foster care. Once he/she reaches a level of independence it is then anticipated that he/she will move on when ready. One of the key aims of long term placements is for the foster carers to ‘provide care for the child throughout their childhood….provide a safe and stable environment to enable him/her to grow both physically and emotionally and to reach their full potential’. (Department of Health, 1998a).
2.3 Ethnic matching in placements
‘Racial matching’ in fostering placements has sparked off one of the most heated debates in child care policy. This chapter concerns itself with history and the emergence of ‘racial matching’ policy in foster care. It discusses the authorities Fostering Teams policies and process in placing Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) children in foster care. The assessment process, key planning and decision making stages, values underpinning the policy along with support services are examined. It begins by assessing the Local Authorities responsibility in meeting the correct placements needs of BME children.
The Children’s Act 1989 and accompanying guidance provide for a well considered framework for the placement of children. Under certain legislation, local authorities, when deliberating on how a decision is made are required to:
Promote and safeguard the child’s welfare;
Consider the wishes and feelings of the child;
Consider the wishes and feelings of the parents;
Consider the child’s ‘religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background’; (Great Britain, The Children’s Act 1989)
The Children’s Act (1989) was the first piece of legislation that specifically required local authorities to consider a child’s ‘religion, race, culture and language’ when making a decision with regards to where the child should be placed (Great Britain, The Children’s Act 1989 s.22). The Department of Health Guidance for Looked after Children 1998 (20) highlights that: ‘placement drift should be avoided’. (Department of Health, 1998a)
The quality of services provided by eight social services departments along with the extent to which they are consulted with BME groups in service planning and decision making were scrutinised. In July 2000 the Department of Health published its report on the findings for the above. (Department of Health, 2000a)
A number of issues were drawn to attention within the report. However for the purpose of this research, certain topics which relate to the research have been extracted. An overall summary of the report inferred that the ‘needs of Black and Minority Ethnic communities must be met in a more consistent and holistic manner. (Department of Health, 2000a) Succeeding this is Standard 7.2 of the National Minimum Standard for Fostering Services which states that “each child should have access to foster care services which recognise and address her/his needs in terms of gender, religion, ethnic origin, language, culture, disability and sexuality. (Department of Health, 2000a)
Each foster carer is assigned to a supervising social worker. The supervising social workers from the Fostering Service attempt to work towards the requirements of the National Minimum Standards regarding trans-racial placements. The most ‘desirable outcome’ for the Fostering Service would be that a foster carer is found from the same ‘race, ethnicity and religion’. The optimum placement is decided subsequent to an individual assessment of the child. The choices which social workers are faced with do not include just ethnic matching, there are a number of factors which need to be taken into consideration. Duties in primary legislation are further supplemented by further responsibilities in regulations in placement matching (Department of Health 2000a).
Guidelines to ‘balance the different needs’ have been made available for supervising social workers. These guidelines stipulate that any factor for example ethnic matching should not be defined with such significance that it supersedes the duty to consider together all factors bearing on the welfare of the child as an individual. (The Children’s Act 1989, Guidance and Regulations).
Due to the change in family and social structures – this makes matching an even more complex process. The role of the supervising social worker whilst completing the assessment with potential foster carers is to explore how both they and others within the household would manage issues of ‘racial challenge, identity issues and/or rejection by the young person of their black identity, ethnic heritage or religious affiliation’. (The Children’s Act 1989, Guidance and Regulations) The impact on extended family, family friends as well as siblings needs to be identified during this assessment process. Often within assessments claims to living in a ‘racially diverse area’ are often used to justify trans-racial placements, however as will be discussed later in this research, racial challenges can also be faced by BME children in racially mixed areas. The foster carer should have a level of awareness of the above issues and these should be recorded during the matching process. It is also imperative for the supervising social workers to recognise that from physical appearance the child’s heritage may not be apparent.
Once a placement has been identified for the child, a referral form is completed which outlines the child’s needs including health, education and other relevant information. The form should also include the child’s ethnicity and culture. Following consultation with a senior manager within the Fostering Team, matching a child’s cultural and ethnic needs will be taken into consideration. Best practice guides staff that ‘no trans-racial, cultural or religion placement should be made, (The Children’s Act 1989, Guidance and Regulations) however in some circumstances it may be that a trans-racial placement may be the best option accessible for the child. The matching process would also need to deliberate on the issue of the child’s needs being different depending on their ethnicity and that of the prospective carer. (The Children’s Act 1989, Guidance and Regulations)
Cataloging every situation when a trans-racial placement can occur is complex, however the following are a few examples:
Where a Parent expresses a wish for their child to be placed (particularly if S.20 CA 1989) with an identified carer, and where an established relationship exists between the child and the proposed carer.
Where a child needs to remain part of a sibling group.
A same day placement when there is no other alternative. This does not negate the Council’s duty to identify a more suitable the next working day when it is clear that the child will not leave their initial Carer within 72 hours.
Religious preference – particularly where expressed by the parent and /or where religion is intrinsically linked to the ethnic identity can take priority over a same race placement.
Where a child has been in a trans-racial/cultural/religion placement for a long time and permanence with the current carers is being considered.
Friends and family care.
Grounds for making a trans-racial placement decision are key in the proposal. Ongoing records of the child should include the reason why decisions were made. Under the Looked after Children procedure once a child has been placed review meetings are held by an Independent Reviewing Officer. The review meetings discuss the child’s welfare and also take into account whether the child’s racial and cultural needs are being met. This is related to all foster placements including trans-racial placements. The child’s future within the placement is also considered and whether a more culturally appropriate placement needs to be sought is reviewed. However this decision is not based on the child’s racial and cultural needs alone. Other factors need to be taken into consideration including the length of the placement and the child’s level of attachment to the foster-carer.
3.1 Literature Review
The controversial debate surrounding trans-racial placements has led to many social workers undergoing the complex task of meeting the diverse needs of BME children. (Thomas, N 2005). The Children Act 1989 supports same race placements within foster care settings. However the simple ‘tick box’ exercise of the Children Act 1989 s22 is not enough in dealing with the children’s diverse needs. Statistics as noted above infer that a number of children from BME communities are fostered into different cultures. Some research suggests that trans-racial placements do not have harmful outcomes and some research suggests otherwise (Tizard, B. & Phoenix, A. 1989).
Various arguments have been presented for and against trans-racial placements. Those supporting trans-racial fostering feel that ‘children fare better psychologically, emotionally and physically when they are placed in a different racial setting’. (Williams, M., 1998). The argument on the opposing side suggests that children ‘should be brought up by parents of the same race in order for the child to obtain a positive sense of racial identity’. (Williams, M., 1998).
A number of studies closely speculated ‘the racial identity of trans-racial fostering’ in-order to verify the effects that trans-racial fostering has. (Bagley, C 1993) The chapter begins by attempting to conceptualise the terms race, ethnicity, culture and racial identity.
The term ‘ethnic’ has over the years altered its definition. It has been often defined as individuals who ‘…share the same cultural or biological characteristics’. Bhavnani (2005) defined ethnicity as ‘a process of group identification, a sense of cultural and historical identity based on belonging by birth to a distinctive cultural group’ (Bhavnani,R et al, 2005).
Bhavnani, (2005) defines culture as ‘sharing of customs, beliefs and traditions with cultural practices passed on from one generation to another through family and community networks’. (Bhavnani,R et al 2005).
The concept of ‘race’ has existed throughout history; however what the term represents, has, like other concepts modified in relation to its context. Historical literature would perceive ‘race’ to ‘signify people that make up families or national groups, cultures, civilisations in the modern world as well as religions’. (Zack, N 1998). This was later altered and the concept of ‘race’ within the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century became known to mean ‘biological differences’ (Zack, N 1998). Christie (1998) states that the interest in the concept of ‘race’ and the attempt to define racial categories formed part of the scientific revolution (C. J. Christie, 1998) Subsequent to this ‘race’ was then defined as ‘a distinct biological group of human beings who were not all members of the same family but who shared inherited physical and cultural traits that were different from those shared within other races’ (Zack, N 1998).
3.2 Racial Identity
Studies of racial identity are of fundamental importance to this research. A broad range of research has been carried out on the concept of racial identity. Racial group identity is often defined as ‘ones self-perception and sense of belonging to a particular group’. It not only includes an individual’s perception of oneself but also how individuals make a distinction between themselves and other ethnic groups. It also explored the level to which an individual has reached in obtaining behaviours which are known to be identifiable to a specific racial group. (McRoy R, G, 1990a).
During a child’s early development their racial identity development entails two key stages. According to McRoy and Freeman (1986) during the first stage, at a conceptual level, the child has the ability to recognise a difference between the races. McRoy, R. and Freeman, E. 1986). Subsequent to this during the second stage children are able to assess their own membership to a racial group. At the age of three children have the ability to tell apart ‘hair texture and skin colour’ and are able to develop beliefs and values about racial groups – these are acquired from peers. (McRoy R, G, 1990a).
The primary care-giver in this case – the foster carer plays an essential role in assisting the child to deal with the environment. However the caregiver of a black child has a different role as the child needs to be somewhat prepared for an environment which may be restrictive and often hostile. (Bowman, P, and C. Howard. 1985)
From ages three and seven years a child has the ability to detect racial differences and labels which are linked with certain groups. Children are also able to monitor the notion of black versus white in society. However attitudes towards certain racial groups depend heavily on the primary care giver. Children in trans-racial placements often obtain limited information about race which may result in them feeling that it is not fitting to communicate feelings about race. (McRoy R G, 1990b)
Furthermore at the age of seven the child has the ability to understand ‘race permanence’. (Aboud, F, E & D.N Rumble, 1987). It is clear from the above that when rearing a black child what is essential for any foster carer is the issue of ‘acknowledgement, acceptance and appreciation of racial characteristics’. Semaj, L. T (1985) suggests that black parents or in this case foster carers should find ways which confirm the work of black culture and attempt to prevent identity confusion amongst black children. (Semaj, L. T. 1985).
McRoy and Zurcher (1983) within their study of transracial placements claimed that the ‘formation of a positive and unambiguos racial identity may be particularly problematic for black children in white famililes. (McRoy, R., and Zurcher, L. 1983) Dean (1993) goes on to discuss how trans-racial placements can pose a threat to the ‘development of a healthy identity in black children’ (Dean, C. 1993).
A majority of the arguments against trans-racial placements have been troubled with the rights of black people along with black identity. As Dean (1993) suggests that once it has been recognised that black children have diverse needs which hold major importance then it also needs to be accepted that it is desirable for black children to ‘maintain a distinct and separate cultural identity’ (Dean, C. 1993). Dean (1993) promotes the needs for children in care to have a strong sense of identity. According to him having a ‘positive self image’ is essential to mental health. (Dean, C 1993).
Having discussed the need for a healthy black identity and how significant ‘positive black images’ along with role models can aid this development – it has been stressed that trans-racial placements can never fulfil this fundamental need (Dean, C. 1993). Therefore suggestions have been made by researchers that black foster carers would be in the best positions to ‘develop a sense of pride to achieve a positive racial identity and a well integrated personality’ (Arnold et al, 1989, p 424).
Dean (1993) alongside other writers highlight the need for substitute parents to encourage the child to develop a positive black identity. Catering for the ‘black’ child’s needs in assisting with the development of a black identity as well as maintaining ties with the black community are factors which local authorities should take into consideration (Dean, C. 1993). Black children in particular have been noted to ‘struggle to gain a positive sense of racial identity’ (Cross 1971 cited by DoH 2000a). A ‘model of identity’ is presented by Cross (1971) for social workers and other child care professionals to ‘make the correlation between the child’s own perception and their emotional development’ (Cross 1971 cited by DoH 2000a).
In-order to develop a positive racial identity and good self esteem, children should be placed with a culturally matched family. (Caesar, G., Parchment, M., and Berridge, D. 1994). It is believed that for children in care, the foster carer is a ‘primary role model’ and children in a long term placement will identify themselves as being like their foster carers. A testimony from an adult who had been brought up in care in a number of ‘trans-racial’ placements stated:“I was always taught in growing up that Black was bad and that because I spoke nicely White people would accept me as one of them – it doesn’t matter about my skin colour, that doesn’t matter, blot that out” (Children’s Legal Centre, 1985). What is described above is a child’s difficulty in integrating his color into a positive racial identity.
The Clarke Doll Experiment (1939) conducted by Dr Kenneth Clarke involved asking children from a black background to select between either a white or black doll. Both dolls were identical and had nothing but skin colour as the distinction, however most of the children felt that the white doll was ‘nicer’. A number of questions were also posed to the children, one of them being “give me the doll which most looks like you”. In past tests and one conducted in the 1950’s – 44% of the children said the white doll looked like them. Johnson et al (1987) used the above mentioned Clarke Doll approach to carry out a longitudinal study on looked after children in trans-racial placements. His findings inferred that black children who were in trans-racial placements identified with the doll as having a race similar to their own. They had a better awareness of their race and ‘greater preference’ towards the doll than did interracially fostered children. The study was later conducted at older ages. Concerns were raised from the results that trans-racially fostered children’s ‘awareness and preference stayed the same over time, while interracially adopted black children’s preferences and awareness both increased more rapidly and exceeded (Baden, A. L. 2001).
The findings highlighted that children in trans-racial placements were ‘developing differently’ from those in interracial placements. The ‘development difference’ may well be a sign of the struggle in the child’s racial identity. (Johnson et al 1987) Although the experiment lacks in strong evidence which validated the harmful effects due to the differences Johnson P.R presumes that the different patterns of development may be harmful. (Johnson, P.R et al, 1987)
Another strong argument is that children ‘need to learn about the culture of their families or orgin’. In Britain, the Association for Black Social Workers along with other associated professionals petitioned before the House of Commons Select Committee arguing that ‘children of a different race should be placed with parents of their same race’ (Tizard, B. and Phoenix, A. 1989).
The National Association of Black Social Workers (NABSW, 1971) felt that trans-racial placements barred children in care to ‘receive a total sense of selves’ (Simon, R. J., & Altstein, H. 1987). They feel that the children’s opportunities to learn about themselves as individuals, their heritage and their cultures are weakened due to trans-racial placements. Their ethos as stated by the president of the NABSW in 1971 stands as ‘black children should be placed only with black families whether in foster care or adoption’. (Simon, R. J. & Altstein, H. 1987).
Pennie, J Rhodes infers that ‘Black children need black families’. The richness of culture cannot be taught, a child needs to grow up to experience the culture whether that includes language, food and music. (Rhodes, P. 1984). The risk of a black child growing in a ‘no-man’s land’ is raised from living with a white foster carer. Another testimony from a young black woman fostered in a white family and neighbourhood states: “I think, to have sent three young black children from London – a place where there are people of different colours, creeds and races, to a place of pure whiteness was a very cruel and wicked thing to do……We were hundreds of miles away from people whom we could identify ourselves with. It was like being put on a desert island – no-one to relate to and no sense of direction”. (Voice for the Child in Care, 1989)
A child’s identity according to Maxime is ‘shaped by external reinforcements’. She raises the issue of positive reinforcement being given when children from a black backgrounds consent to white social values and states; ‘most black children in this society are reinforced positively when they show signs of adjustment and acceptance to society and its values. This happens even when society is so often hostile and rejecting to black people (Maxime, J E in Ahmed et al 1986).
Robinson (2000) carried out a comparative study of adolescents of ethnic minority backgrounds in care with those living at home. Both groups attended a multiracial comprehensive school in a city in the West Midlands. Racial identity issues of 40 African – Caribbean young people living in care were matched with a sample of 40 African – Caribbean children not living in care. Robinson’s findings protested that both groups had relatively ‘high levels of self-esteem and of internalisation of their identity as black young people’. (Robinson, L. 2000) For those who eagerly identified and associated themselves with the black community were most likely to have higher levels of self-esteem. The following quote supports Robinson’s study. ‘They want to know about their history, to learn about black achievers and to have positive black role models who have not subjugated blackness for achievement and status. They want black carers who will be kind to them and support them. They want to keep links with their families and to feel secure and comfortable in their skins and in the company of other black and minority people’. (Voice for the Child in Care 2004a)
3. 4 Child Development Perspective
A number of studies have been compiled which look into the development of attachment and the significance which it has on young children. Attachment is often defined as the ‘social relationship between infants and their caregiver’. (Centre of Early Education and Development 1991). Early work on attachment theory has been covered by John Bowbly and later developed by other theorists. Bowlby (1969) states that without a secure base of first attachment relationships, children won’t be able to cope with separations of ‘normal life’. (Bowlby, J. 1969 cited in cited in Cowie, H. 1995)
Attachment is central to infants and children’s ‘social and emotional development’. (Crawford, K. and Walker, J. 2003). Attachment behaviour according to Schaffer (1997) is mutual as opposed to unidirectional and defined as a “long enduring emotionally meaningful tie to a particular individual.” (Schaffer, H, R. 1997). Mary Ainsworth’s (1913 – 1999) attachment classification demonstrates that infant behaviour can be attributed to secure or insecure attachments. The reasons behind many children’s attachment and the symptoms which they are displaying according to Ainsworth (1978) could be a lack of consistency in the relationship with their mothers along with a possible past of separation. (Ainsworth, M. D. S. et al. 1978).
Bowlby believed that an attachment between parent and child is essential for normal development. Observational and clinical evidence implies that the lack of an attachment or a serious interruption of an attachment relationship can result in the child feeling distressed and in some cases enduring behavioural/emotional problems. Bowlby also discusses discrimination in his work and proposes that during the first few months infant’s behaviours are without discrimination. This includes ‘cuddling, grasping and smiling’. Subsequent to this between three and six months the infant is able to ‘discriminate against familiar and unfamiliar figures’. According to Watkin (1987) if an infant is removed from the family his/her attachment behaviour may be delayed as the child is most sensitive at this age, (Watkins, K. P. 1987). From infant to the toddler stage – if in long term care and the child is able to ‘maintain proximity’ to the carer and there is responsible care-giving then the infant could become securely attached. Bowlby suggested that a deficiency in nurturing from the primary caregiver could lead to the child in adulthood having an ‘affectionless psychopathy’ (the inability to have deep feelings for others’ (Watkins, K. P. 1987).
According to Fahlberg 1985 part of the foster carers role is to support the child in developing healthy attachements. (Fahlberg, V 1985). Studies have demonstrated that those children who experience early maltreatement are more likely to exhibit a high instance of anxious and resistant attachment (Egeland, B & Scroufe,L.A 1981).
A small amount of research was conducted on the attachment outcomes for children in care in trans-racial placements. Yarrow et al (1973) within their study found that children who were removed from their birthparents into trans-racial placements after six to seven months of age experience ‘signs of psychological problems’ The children were then followed ten years later and the findings inferred that a number of the children still experienced ‘difficulty in establishing different levels of relationships with people’. (Yarrow, L.J. Goodwin, M. S., Manheimer, H. & Milowe, I. D. 1973).
Singer et al (1985) also examined attachment amongst children in trans-cultural placements. This comparative study looked at attachment between 3 groups. 19 infants in interracial placements, 27 infants in trans-racial placements and 27 living with birth families. Signer et al (1985) found that those who have more insecure attachment relationships were amongst those who were in trans-racial placements. (Singer, L, Brodzinsky, D., Ramsay, D, Steir, M., & Waters, E. 1985).
Within research there are a number of unanswered questions regarding attachment and trans-racial placements. Whilst assessing attachment in trans-racial placements it is essential to recognise the mediating variable which is the ‘quality of care? given to the children prior and subsequent to being placed. Despite the number of placements which the child may have the ‘quality of care and the level of comfort? is core in aiding the attachment.
Having secure attachments and relationships are key for children in care, therefore when assessing foster placements, social workers should consider the following when a trans-racial foster placement is sourced: does the child have the ability to develop a positive racial identitySocial workers need to also within the placement promote ‘healthy attachments and psychological development’ and assess how they are ‘maintained and strengthened’ (Howe, C, 1999). Howe, C (1999) work was condemned by Robinson (2002) who states that her was unsuccessful in his research about discussing the attachments within the black community and just lightly touched upon the subject referring to ‘cultural variations’ (Robinson, L 2002)
4.1 Institutionalised Racism
Thompson (1997) suggests that it is ‘fundamental to recognise cultural differences of ethnicity… failure to recognise this covert shift from ethnicity to race serves to mask racism and its subtle influences’. (Thompson, N 1997). Cultural processes also have a large impact where black people felt they were defined by their language as having a ‘black identity’.Mac an Ghaill (1991) challenged Margaret Thatcher who claimed that we had fixed identities and discussed the processes in which race is constructed. According to Mac an Ghaill (1991) ‘This was not a crisis of race but rather race has provided the lens through which the crisis was perceived and mediated’. (Mac an Ghaill, M 1991).
The deep rooted issues of racism along with the inequalities in society within Britain’s history – it may come as no surprise that these issues have entered into the care system. According to Pennie 1987 a child is better equipped to deal with racism if brought up by a foster carer from the same ethnic background. ‘Black carers will have had similar experiences so that they are in a better position to pass on skills necessary for a survival in a white racist society’. (Rhodes, P 1984)
Contemporary theories relating to racism and ethnicity consider the different ways in which racism is conceptualised with culture and how knowledge is maintained within culture. Dalrymple and Burke (1995) suggests that ‘oppression itself is a powerful force….on a personal level it can lead to demoralisation and a lack of self-esteem, while at a structural level it can lead to denial of rights’ (Dalrymple, J. and Burke, B. 1995). A theory which recognises oppression and discrimination from a cultural point of view is the PCS (Personal, Cultural and Structural) analysis. According to Thompson (1997) the PCS theory intends to eliminate oppression, in particular when challenging racism. The cultural aspect of this model lays the foundation for understanding and eliminating racism. This model can have a beneficial impact when tackling discrimination within social work practice. It can enable individuals to be able to challenge collectively the dominant culture and ideology. Thompson, N 1997)
For social care professionals working with looked after children from BME backgrounds, it is imperative that they become aware of the discrimination which exists and the impact this has on those concerned. A misinterpretation of cultural needs can in turn lead to discrimination and oppression. Thompson (1997) highlights that within social settings individuals are labelled by ‘social divisions’ such as ethnicity. These labels in turn shape the base of the social structure. According to Thompson (1997) this enables ‘organisations to form networks of social relationships, which plays an imperative role in the distribution of power, status and opportunities’. (Thompson, N 1997)
It is essential that supervising social workers along with social workers from the Looked After Children Team recognise that if the policies and practices of the organisations are inadequate, this can lead to ‘structural deficiencies’ and in turn have an effect on individuals and make them, feel powerless. Dominelli (1997) states that this can be perceived as a ‘colour-blind approach’, whereby equality is assumed rather than proven because all individuals and groups are treated as if they were all the same’. (Dominelli, L. 1997) Many policy initiatives have been introduced to address issues of racism ranging from encouraging integration and legislative action on racial discrimination. The development of anti racism campaigns and research into discrimination have strongly influenced the development of social policy. (Bhavnani, R. 2001).
Throughout the 1950’s to 1960’s the importance of ‘assimilation’ was highlighted which involved teaching immigrants to learn English in order to adapt to the UK. This was then followed by ‘integration’. Multi cultural policies were implemented which involved teaching everyone about ‘other cultures’. Roy Jenkins in 1966 defined this approach as ‘equal opportunity accompanied by cultural diversity in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance.’ (Blackstone, Parekh and Sanders 1998). During this time criticism of multicultural policies were flagged from the left and right. The right campaigned that it was important to keep ‘cultures’ distinct. However the left highlighted that attempting to understand the ‘other’ of black cultures did not assist in tackling the power relations of racism. (Bhavnani, R 2001).
In-order to assess discrimination from social work practitioners for Looked after Children the research explores Neil Thompson’s PCS model – a theory which recognises oppression and discrimination from a Personal, Cultural and Structural perspective. The PCS model highlights the interconnections between the Political, Cultural and Social levels and how society functions with these three different levels. The P intends to represent the personal, psychological, practice and prejudice’, this takes into account each individuals ‘actions, feelings and thoughts’. This would for example highlight how social workers interact with children in care and the ‘inflexibility of mind’ which stands in the way of social workers ‘non-judgemental practice’. (TOPPS 2002) According to Thompson as individuals values and norms are ‘internalised through socialisation’, hence the P is implanted in the C level. The C intends to represent culture, commonalities, consensus and conformity. Here individuals share ways of seeing, thinking and doing and share norms about rights and wrongs. Therefore social inequalities are justified by culture, a culture which is validated by structures such as the society and economy in which we live. The C level is then interconnected with the S level, representing Social Divisions and Socio-political which interlock patterns of power and influence. (Thompson, N 1997).
Social workers amongst other practitioners need to understand and obtain the practical knowledge along with the necessary theoretical framework to understand the different signs of racism. Practitioners working in the Fostering and Looked after Children Team need to have a bi-focal vision which will permit them to recognise the different experiences of service users. This approach will allow them to empower the service users they work with and eliminate the power dynamics between ‘us’ and others. This approach will also work towards creating a structure that will tackle racism both individually and collectively, in changing policies and practices at the personal, organisational and societal levels.
It has become apparent whilst researching that some organisations have a misunderstanding of service user’s cultural needs which can lead to oppression. Thompson (1993) asserts that no practice can be considered good practice without awareness of discrimination and its impact on both service users and practitioners. (Thompson, 1993) Some organisations seem to employ poor individual practices and also inadequate policies, which can lead to structural faults and have an effect on individuals and make them, feel powerless. In-order to eliminate institutionalised racism within social work Dominelli proposed that fighting racism is white peoples starting point in acknowledging that they have a different relationship to racism from black people, leading to different roles in dismantling it’ (Dominelli, L 1988). Good practice according to Neil Thompson is for social workers to take into account in their day to day work that oppression and discrimination exists. With reference to fostering, Thompson speaks about the need for social work practitioners to assist children in care to ‘achieve a positive black identity’. (Thompson, N 2001). His work in his book ‘Anti-Discriminatory Practice’ does not claim any remedies to anti-racist social work, nonetheless it anticipates that social work practitioners will make more of a conscious effort to eradicate the problem (Thompson, N 2001) The Uncomfortable Edge Theory is also a tool which works to ‘educate the oppressed’ along with social workers with a consciousness. It allows social workers to question their economic and political situation and view problems from different levels. In-order to achieve this level of consciousness social workers must become more aware of the sources of oppression; reject compliance and work collectively to eliminate oppression. (Jones, C & Thorpe A, 2008)
4.2 White kids in Black houses.
According to Devine (1983) trans-racial placements have conventionally been a ‘one-way traffic’ of black children to white carers. (Divine, D. 1983). Very few researchers have taken notice of this imbalance of white children being placed with black foster carers. Cheetham (1982) consulted with social care practitioners from 18 local authorities of social services departments. Her findings were of some concern. Those departments which had ‘black foster parents would never, except in the direst short-term emergency situations place white children with black families’ (Cheetham, J. 1982). The justification for this was not what may have been expected – that foster carers from these backgrounds were reserved for black children, but the fact that such placements would be unpopular with natural parents or, in some cases, with local councillors. (Cheetham, J. 1982)
Some authorities recognise that the dynamics of placing a child from a BME background with foster carers from a white background is quite different to placing a white child in a black family. The reason provided was that a ‘white child will continue to have the cultural re-enforcement of the dominant culture and is less removed from their heritage than a black child would be if placed in a white family’. (Cheetham, J. 1982)
Rhodes (1992) discusses her research which consisted of a discussion within the fostering team when a proposal came forward for black family to foster a white child. She discloses that no policy was in place within the fostering team for white children to be placed in black families and it was thought ‘unlikely that a black family would be considered’. (Rhodes, P 1992). Rhodes (2002) also observed when the fostering team faced a sever shortage of white carers. Again she documents that ‘At no point was the placement of white children in black families suggested. (Rhodes, P 2002) Another study conducted on authorities was that of white children being placed with African-Caribbean foster carers. However this was perceived by those within the fostering team as a situation ‘arising from a shortage of white carers, rather than a positive choice based on carer skills’ (Barn, R et al, 1997 in Barn, R 2002)
Due to the limited information on studies concerning white children being placed with black foster carers – generalisations cannot be made. However this does raise some important points and correlates somewhat with the institutionalised racism which was discussed above.
Considering the placing of white majority ethnic children with black carers forces an examination of good placement practice. It emphasises the need to look beyond simplistic ‘racial’ matching and at the complex needs of all children linked to their individual experiences, ethnicities, religion, class and culture. A skills-based approach, providing it works within a protective framework of countering racism and exclusion and promoting positive identification for all children, can increase the pool of foster carers available to white majority group children, without reversing the practice of placing black children appropriately.
A number of arguments presented dispute on the amount of children in care vs. the availability of ‘same race’ placements. Simon, R. J., & Altstein, H. (1987). General arguments in place for trans-racial fostering by a Black sociologist dispute that ‘no child should be denied a permanent home when parents of other cares are available’. (Ladner, J.A 1977). Within the social work realm when the task of finding an immediate placement is at hand, arguments of recruitment of foster carers from ethnic minority communities and that preventative measures are necessary to reduce the proportion of Black children in care are of very little aid in resolving the issue. Therefore the conflict of finding a speedy placement verses the needs of finding an ethnically matched placement for a social worker could well cause a setback in making a decision and rejecting a permanent placement for a child which is unfavourable to the interests of the child.
According to Biehal et all (1995) ‘Young people of mixed heritage who do not see themselves from a particular background and should not be pathologised as suffering from ‘identity confusion’. (Biehal, N et all 1995). Studies have explored the intricacy and the variety of attitudes around ‘identity, culture and placement’. For some young people in care, ethnicity does not equal to them the ‘best placement’. A testimony from a child in care confirms this…. ‘I was always placed with the same background, people from Trinidad. I didn’t like it because….I felt at the time, ‘why did they place me with TrinidadiansJust because I’m a Trinidadian doesn’t mean you need to place me back with a Trinidadian family. Any person who is suitable to look after a child I’m happy with’. (Granville, J and Miller, B 2006)
Often due to the child’s past experiences it is key and should be recognised that children/young people in care when making ‘identity choices for positive reasons’ are not discarding their cultural background because they were rejected by their birth families or because of any previous ‘unresolved confusions or conflicts’ (Biehal, N., Clayden, J., Stein, M. and Wade, J. 1995)
5.1 Social Identity Theory
Some researchers take the approach that social work practitioners should have a ‘open attitude to young people’s self-definitions of ethnic identity’ as opposed to dogmatically hypothesising that a child from a mixed heritage background would regard themselves as having a certain identity. (Biehal, N et al 1995).
In 1979 Henri Tajfel and John Turner developed the Social Identity theory which is compromised of three central elements. Firstly categorisation, this proposes that as humans we use social categories to assign individuals as well as ourselves to certain groups. By doing so, we define fitting behaviour by reference to ‘the norms of groups which individuals belong to, in order to understand the social environment’. (Henri, T & John T 1979)
The second element is identification. According to the Social Identity theory the ‘self-concept’ is comprised of both personal and social identity, with social identity being that particular part of the individuals self concept which ‘derives from his/her knowledge of his/her membership of a social group/s together with the value and emotional significance attached to that membership’ and personal identity being that part of the individuals self concept which requires the individual to think of themselves as unique individuals. (Tajfel, H. 1978) Finally, the notion of social comparison brought together by Festinger’s (1954) infers that as individuals in order to assess ourselves, comparisons are made with others in order to label their group as positive, and therefore seeing themselves in a positive light. (Henri, T & John T 1979)
A crucial aspect of this theory is the fluctuating nature of identity. While people tend to identify with many social groups, based on various factors such as race, ethnicity, class, gender and so on, these factors become relevant at different times and in different ways. BME children in care may categorise themselves in particular ways not only to fulfil the need to feel valuable and worthy but also to feel competent and effective. (Henri, T & John T 1979). Yet, although the group, role and personal identities provide different sources of meaning, it is also likely that these different identities overlap.
Stuart Hall’s (1992) observations on the topic of identity enables us to assess the notion of ‘self-definition’. Hall argues that an identity is better understood as a ‘process of identification, something that is never absolutely stable, that is subject to the play of history and of difference’. He suggests that as people reformulate their self-definitions their identities are in a constant state of instability, Hall advises us to think of an identity as a ‘production that is always in process and always constituted within representation’ (Hall, S 1992 cited in Hall, S et al 1992)
Foster carers should be compliant in recognising issues of ‘race and racism’ and be able to display behaviour of respect and values for the different cultures which the young persons may come from. According to Dwivedi 2002 ..talking through emotional and cultural issues, valuing and acknowledging cultural identities, heritage and histories of ethnic minority people’. (Dwivedi, K N, 2002)
As above research evidence suggests that emotionally healthy children can be raised trans-racially. Therefore taking into consideration the resource limitation with the number of forthcoming foster carers from BME communities it is recommended that a number of steps should be taken by white foster carers to work towards creating a strong sense of identity and for the connection to remain within the child’s community. This involves the foster carers seeking a number of opportunities to develop racial awareness and being accountable for keeping issues of identity, colour, religion and culture alive in the family. (TOPPS 2002)
5.2 Links to family and the community
Research conducted by the Voice for the Child in Care takes into consideration the impact which a birth family has on a black child. The justification given is that those children from white backgrounds who are raised in societies which are mainly populated by those from white backgrounds have a number of ‘role models’ which represent their identity. However for children from black and minority ethnic backgrounds birth families are really the only ‘gateway’ through which they can access their cultural and ethnic identities. Some of the key comments brought out of the research of children in care were that the young people felt that they were: ‘kept away from themselves’, ‘brought up to be white’ and lost their sense of racial and cultural identity. They also discussed the problems this created for them on returning to their communities upon leaving care.
In summary a majority of the studies look at how some black children brought up in a predominantly white context could lose a positive sense of their racial identity and heritage, even viewing themselves as ‘effectively white’. (Gill, O and Jackson, B 1983) In particular what is concerning is that once the child becomes what is referred to as a ‘care-leaver’, the risks of conflicts of identity are far greater. Further evidence which highlights the importance of family links comes from a study of the Moving On and Leaving Care Scheme. The Department of Health’s study Caring for Children Away from Home: Messages from Research: states that even where ‘family relationships were poor, family links, including those with brothers and sisters, grandparents and other members of the extended family, were very important to most.’ (Department of Health, 1998)
The Department of Health’s studies Caring for Children Away from Home: Messages from Research: also found that children in care who maintained family links had a ‘positive sense of identity’ – they had a secure sense of self which provided a platform for secure future personal growth and development. Ince (1998) carried out a study Making it Alone: a study of the care experiences of young black people. Her findings inferred that lost contact with birth families led to ‘displaced identity’. This was particularly for children who came into care at an early age and remained in care long term. Ince (1998) stressed the significance of children in care maintaining and facilitating positive links with the family and community. (Ince, L 1998)
What also needs to be taken into account is that those children who come into care at a later age may be able to salvage and enter with a sense of identity. A quote from one of the children in care from Ince (1998) study ‘My advantage was as a black person I had my family before going into care. So I knew about cooking and the way black people live their lives. But for those of them who are in care and don’t know, it’s hard when they leave’. (Ince, L 1998). Where possible the local authorities and social work practitioners should source links within the child’s wider family or look within the community. Relatives in particular should be spoken to by social workers to play a key role in connecting the child to their family. (Voice for the Child in Care 2004b) .The Practice Guidance to the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families (Department of Health 2000) goes a step further in stating that although they accept that having close links to the immediate family holds some weight, however to achieve a sense of connectedness throughout the community, the child’s sense of continuity is provided by the whole community rather than the individual parent or family’. (Department of Health 2000)
Wheal (2002) explores the needs for unaccompanied asylum seeking children in care. For these children there is a different scenario. Being in ‘extreme isolation, from loosing not only their families but also their community and country. A potential resource as recommended by Wheal (2002) is the refugees child’s community living within the locality which he is in care. With the ability to provide a support network and a form of extended family Wheal (2002) feels that this will have ‘positive outcomes for a lone child’ (Wheal, A, 2002). An example of good practice documented in the Save the Children’s report Cold Comfort: young separated refugees in England for working with unaccompanied asylum seekers is operating residential homes solely set aside for refugees rather than having a mixed home. The refugee children living within the homes commented in interviews that their cultural needs were being met and that they had ‘a high level of satisfaction with it’. (Stanley, K 2001). Social workers interviewed commented that such designated homes offered a ‘safe haven’. Any contact with individuals from the same ethnic background would help towards moving into adulthood and establishing a strong sense of positive identity. The main intention of the approach is to keep questions of ethnic identification ‘open’ for the young people. (Biehal, N., Clayden, J., Stein, M. and Wade, J, 1995). Although the above provides a solution, what needs to be taken in consideration is the funding constraints and the practically of authorities providing an exclusive home.
The above studies have prompted for Care Matters to look into the duties of local authorities and enforce a legal obligation to secure a sufficient and diverse provision of quality placements in their local area’. (Department for Education and Skills 2007). The chosen location for the child can either work towards developing or obstructing the development of contact with birth families. Jones, A and Waul, D (2005) spoke with parents of black children who complained that they felt ‘pathologised’ and excluded from their children’s lives. (Jones, A and Waul, D, 2005)
6.1 Implications to social work practice
The GSCC code of practice provides clear guidelines for good professional practice however trans-racial placements can bring along with them implications for social work practice. Some implications of social work practice include assessments which the supervising social worker completes. At the core of social work is anti-oppressive practice and valuing diversity’, as well as having a ‘commitment to partnership working, being non-judgemental, trustworthy and respecting service users right’ (TOPPS 2002). However assessments completed are not always ‘value free’. Social workers can bring along with them their racial, cultural, gender, class and religious values to the assessment.
At the hub to good practice is the notorious issues of social work practitioners recognising racism and sourcing constructive and practical service responses. Interviews were conducted with a focus group of young care leavers from black and ethnic minority backgrounds. The group shared a number of important thoughts. The young people felt that their experience of discrimination and resilience in enduring it was highly dependent on how the care system responded to core issues. This also included how they perceived themselves along with how they integrated into their respective minority communities. (Kendrick, A 2008) According to Kendrick 2008 research …‘Issues of race, ethnicity, colour and culture were central to identity and self-worth. How these aspects of a child’s heritage, culture and personal reality were fully integrated into the care system made a critical difference to young people…’ (Voice for the Child in Care 2004)
Some authorities assign social workers from the same ethnic background to the children when a placement match cannot be found. There are some critical issues of matching the social worker to the child on the basis of race. Prevatt Goldstein, B (2002) carried out interviews on social workers and found that the social workers from black backgrounds ‘overwhelmingly wanted to contribute to equal opportunities for black service users’. However this highlights an important issue of the policy which allocates social workers to service users on the basis of ‘race’. She found that it ‘essentialises black and white service users and black and white workers by focusing on racialised experiences and needs only’ (Prevatt Goldstein, B. 2002).
Another implication which supervising social workers face is ‘recruiting black families to foster’. To meet the needs of the children in the area, the recruitment of these families is most important. The underlying issue which most local authorities encounter is the lack of forthcoming foster-carers from BME communities. Researchers of trans-racial placements also pays attention to social work practice and recognises that ‘the problem lies not in the reluctance of black people to come forward, but in social services reluctance to accept what is being offered’ (Brunton, L. and Welch, M. 1983) A fairly recent large-scale study of children in foster care is that carried out by Sinclair, I., Gibbs, I., and Wilson, K. (2004) . According to data provided by foster carers of children in care 16% of the 495 children in their care were of minority ethnic origin, the largest group (9%) being of mixed race parentage. Nine out of ten of the foster carers of these 495 children described themselves as ‘White and of English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh origin’. The authors comment that the small number of ethnic minority carers in some areas points to difficulties for these local authorities in making appropriate placements. In contrast, the fact that over 70 per cent of the carers in one area were from ethnic minority backgrounds demonstrates success in recruiting ethnic minority carers within established communities.
Sinclair, I., Gibbs, I., and Wilson, K. (2004) Foster Carers: Why They Stay and Why They Leave Jessica Kingsley Publishers, London.
A fairly recent large-scale study of children in foster care is that carried out by Sinclair, I., Gibbs, I., and Wilson, K. (2004) . According to data provided by foster carers of children in care 16% of the 495 children in their care were of minority ethnic origin, the largest group (9%) being of mixed race parentage. Nine out of ten of the foster carers of these 495 children described themselves as ‘White and of English, Irish, Scottish or Welsh origin’. The authors comment that the small number of ethnic minority carers in some areas points to difficulties for these local authorities in making appropriate placements. In contrast, the fact that over 70 per cent of the carers in one area were from ethnic minority backgrounds demonstrates success in recruiting ethnic minority carers within established communities. (Sinclair, I., Gibbs, I., and Wilson, K. 2004)
It has become apparent that current services are now emphasising the importance of service user involvement in the development of services. This is often completed through a process of consultation. According to Lloyd the process of consultation and allowing service users to air their needs is simply ‘lip service?. Social workers working with BME Looked after Children must provide opportunities for service user’s within trans-racial placements to gain knowledge and an understanding which will increase their self confidence, power, control and choice. (TOPPS 2002)
To enable the research question to be answered accurately for this project, a selection of secondary information sources were retrieved to write the literature review. The process of reviewing the literature included sifting through and prioritising the retrieved literature.
The initial process began by reviewing local authorities fostering services department of policies with regards to racial placements. Legislation and guidelines were retrieved from a local borough Fostering Team. A number of other resources were used including: e-books, journals, articles, government statistics, documents and legal frameworks. As a number of small scale studies were used to support the research including statistical information. Analysis of the qualitative data facilitated the identification of emerging patterns and trends for this research. This included sources such as surveys, in-depth interviews and case studies etc.
Comparative studies were used to determine and quantify relationships between children in trans-racial placements and forming positive racial identities. Studies previously conducted had observed two groups who had been exposed to different treatments – those who had been trans-racially placed and those who had been inter-racially placed. One of the key limitations of the comparative methods is that extraneous variables could not be controlled which could influence what is being measured. For example Robinson, L (2000) comparative study which measured the self esteem of adolescents of BME backgrounds in care with those living at home. Other variables which could have contributed to the high levels of self-esteem include: where the foster carers house is located, how family or cultural links have been maintained and the fact that certain aspects of the African Caribbean culture such as hairstyles and music are now perceived as having a positive status.
Within the research I also used correlational studies; namely archival research. This was performed by analysing studies conducted by other researchers as well as by records by the government. The advantages of using this method were that I was able to get a better view of trends, relationships and outcomes between trans-racial placements and issues in the development of a positive racial identity. An important limitation with using this method was that such analysis could not fully demonstrate cause and effect. Throughout the research it became clear that whilst the correlational studies did suggest that there was a link between children who were in trans-racial placements and a weak identity formation, the studies could always prove that one variable causes a change in the other. It is important to note from the research that correlation does not always equal causation and in this case because a child is living in a trans-racial placement does not necessarily equal to no sense of identity or lack of self-esteem. On the other hand a child living in an inter-racial placement will not necessarily have high self esteem or a positive sense of identity. However an advantage of this method is that it allowed me to analyse government initiatives and policies which document working models which have been tried and tested. I was then able to identify the problem with trans-racial placements and models of good practice for further recommendations to authorities working with children in care
Longitudinal studies were also analysed to assess the long term impact that living in a trans-racial placements had on the child. Trends or patterns of change within the child’s attachment as well as their social and emotional development could therefore be detected.
Due to the nature of the research topic it was foreseen that carrying out primary research would not be practical. Such research would draw a better conclusion from a longitudinal study, however due to time limitations it would not have been possible to retrieve the data from a longitudinal study. Also due to the high turnover of children entering and leaving care it would have been difficult to track and monitor their development. It would also have been problematic in gaining consent access to the participants needed.
Therefore it was decided that secondary research would be more appropriate as it would allow me to draw conclusions from previous studies along with assessing or observing patterns/trends of behaviour. The secondary research consisted more of qualitative methods. This involved the use of existing data, collected for the purposes of a prior study on trans-racial placements.
One the key limitations of using secondary research was that it could have contained errors. For example government official websites with their own agenda’s may only publish statistics and research which serve their own purposes. There could also be errors from the primary research collectors. Out of date information can also have an impact on the outcome of the research making it difficult to draw conclusions due to its validity. Therefore it was essential that the information which was used during this project was recent and contained current statistics. The analysis of the qualitative research is often contingent upon the interpretation of subjects situation and responses. Therefore secondary research used posed issues in terms of empirical enquiry as for some of the research it depended on the researchers ability to form critical insights
Most research is biased in some way on another. The arguments for trans-racial placements within the literature review have been researched using interviews around attitudes on trans-racial placements. They have been on a larger scale and are objective. On the opposing side the research is on a smaller scale, subjective and politically interpreted. Both sides of the argument overlap in that both parties are apprehensive about the ‘disproportionate number of black people in care’ ((Dean, C. 1993)). Although both provide dissimilar solutions to eliminate the problems. Researchers also when completing the write up often hold their own agendas and interpretations of the events which they will include in the study. (Baxter. 1998).
The studies which were conducted used a small sample of participants which led to difficulties in applying this to the general population of BME looked after children. There was also a lack of information within this field which resulted in having to look at the research from a different perspective as opposed to that which was initially proposed.
Ethical considerations included the position of the secondary analyst. In some cases within the research taking on the role as the secondary analyst was problematic. Attempts were being made to examine the data with a new focus in mind, however this was difficult due to not having access to original data but rather data which had been somewhat condensed for the purposes of the research it was used.
More research has been conducted on children in long-term permanent placements then in short term placements. Research which was prevalent within trans-racial placement was that of children in adoption, however ‘snapshop’ studies of foster care include a proportion of short-stay as well as long-stay children which may explain some differences in findings. These being for example Barn, R et al 1993. Research on long-term fostering has declined since the mid 1980’s due to adoption being the placement of first choice for children who could not return home. Also it was unusual to define a foster care placement as ‘long-term’ and it proved too difficult to find sufficiently large numbers of such placements for robust evaluation. Few of the studies specifically focusing on long-term foster care include large enough numbers of ethnic minority children for purposes of quantitative analysis but insights from interviews with these children and their foster parents assisted in understanding their experiences and these have contributed to our overall conclusions.
In conclusion the evidence gathered suggests that Looked after Children from black backgrounds do suffer more from long-standing ‘emotional and psychological harm’ in comparison to those in interracial placements. A strong argument which has heated up the debate is that without foster carers who provide trans-racial placements for children of whom there is already a shortage, it may result in the child not being placed. What has been established throughout this research is that interracial placements although ideal, if unavailable a transracial placement ought to be sought.
Kim (1995) notes that ‘trans-racial fostering of black children stirred up many controversies regarding their psychological development, especially with respect to their ethnic identity, or cultural well being’ (Kim, W. J. 1995). As all social worker’s stand, children in care – from whichever background should not be denied the right or chance to develop physically, psychologically and emotionally due to the colour of their skin. Using this argument pro-racial groups will persist in their endeavor to find a suitable placement for the child despite it being interracial. For the opposing side anti-transracial groups will continue to gather arguments to downplay the existence of transracial placements.
Much of the research gathered for this project has been conveyed by practitioners within social care fields and leaders of BME community groups. A wealth of the research gathered discusses issues of racial identity and appears to be at the forefront of the argument against transracial placements. The key themes which this perspective include is the ongoing concerns surrounding racism within British society and how black children in care should resist the negative impact that racism may have. Research suggested that black carers are better equipped to understand black children’s experience of racism. Does this than suggest that white foster carers are unable to support black children in this regardThe argument does not reject the support a white foster carer could provide a black child with issues of racism and racial identity, it does however, recognise the unique role that a black foster carer would provide in passing on skills due to personal experience, necessary for a survival in a society with a white majority. Research also highlights that social care professionals working with looked after children should be aware of the discrimination that exists and the effect this has on the recipients. The PCS theory was discussed in-terms of eliminating oppression, in particular when challenging racism. This model can have a beneficial impact when tackling discrimination within social work practice. For social care professionals working with looked after children from BME backgrounds, it is imperative that they become aware of the discrimination which exists and the impact this has on those concerned. A misinterpretation of cultural needs by social care practitioners and foster carers can in turn lead to discrimination and oppression of the child. Social workers therefore need to be mindful of the above within their practice. This can be done through advocating a positive racial identity for the children in care, monitoring through the child care reviews the child’s progression within this regard and taking on board the recommendations mentioned within the report.
Consideration within this research was also given to a scenario where a child came from a birth family where one parent was white and the other is black and concluded that a placement should be matched for the child with a family who are similarly ethnically mixed.
Although creating a positive identity has been the core of the research literature, it is also important to note the fluctuating nature of identity. Different factors such as race, ethnicity, class and gender become relevant at different times and in different ways depending of the child’s experience. Social workers need to be mindful of this and continue to monitor the child’s racial and cultural needs as opposed to assuming that these have been met within an inter-racial placement.
Placements are matched according to age and the ‘issues which the child brings with them into the care system’. (Cocker, C & Allain, L 2008) Consequently, what if the child refuses to go to a same race placement There may be an underlying issue for the child. They may have rejected their culture/ethnicity due to abuse of some kind. In this case as the Government states ‘the welfare of the child is paramount’ therefore, actually asking the child if possible whether they want a same race placement may be visible as a replacement for presuming.
Considering the placing of white majority ethnic children with black carers forces an examination of good placement practice. It emphasises the need to look beyond simplistic ‘racial’ matching and at the complex needs of all children linked to their individual experiences, ethnicities, religion, class and culture. A skills-based approach, providing it works within a protective framework of countering racism and exclusion and promoting positive identification for all children, can increase the pool of carers available to white majority group children, without reversing the practice of placing black children appropriately.
The GSCC codes and values must also be adhered to in-terms of promoting the child’s choice and respecting his/her wishes. This is often constrained by the need to protect the child or by resource limitations which will be further discussed. (TOPPS, 2002)
The alternative for no ethnically matched placement is not ‘NO placement’. A placement decision needs to be made even if its short term or interim placement. Therefore the research takes a pragmatic approach where it recognises resource limitations in the lack of forthcoming foster carers from black communities and highlights current policy in meeting the need and proposes further recommendations in ensuring that the child’s cultural and identity needs are met. Within the social work realm when the task of finding an immediate placement is at hand, arguments of recruitment of foster carers from ethnic minority communities and that preventative measures are necessary to reduce the proportion of Black children in care are of very little aid in resolving the issue. Therefore the conflict of finding a speedy placement verses the needs of finding an ethnically matched placement for a social worker could well cause a setback in the decision making and rejecting a permanent placement for a child which is unfavourable to the interests of the child.
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