Enabling Black children in care to own their identity and thrive

For Black History Month we are highlighting the amazing work Black people involved in fostering do. We also show where foster care has to do better to make sure it is the best it can be – both for Black foster carers and Black children in care. 

In blog two of our series, Judith tells us about the challenges Black children in care are faced with and which steps have to be taken to make sure Black children in care can thrive. 

Read blog 1 here: The Black Care Experience - Creating a lasting difference for Black children in care  

Read blog 3 here: Mis- and under-representation of Black people in fostering

Judith is a speaker and author and the CEO and founder of The Transformed You, which delivers intervention and support mentoring programmes to care experienced people to help them transform their lives and thrive. Judith has also served on social care panels and is chair of The Black Care Experience and care experienced herself.

In a nutshell, what are the biggest issues for Black children in care? 

The practice of our children’s social care system does not reflect the culturally diverse world we live in. It seems as though when a Black child or young person is placed in care, the need to promote their identity and culture is ignored, overlooked or simply put, not a priority.

To be very clear, we understand that being care experienced does come with its challenges for all, however, we also know that the experience of care does come with an extra set of challenges for those of us who are Black. We have highlighted these in The Black Care Experience 2021 Report

The Report mentions the issues that can arise when Black children are placed with a foster carer who isn’t Black themselves. 

Often placements are unable to promote our culture and identity, which has an impact on how we see ourselves and on how our hair and skin is cared for. Placements are often unable to prepare us to return to and be a part of our community, impacting on how we see our community. These placements also fail to prepare us for the racism and discrimination we may face in the world we live in and can often not be seen as a safe space, where our voice in regards to our culture and identity can be heard and understood.

Matching is a complex process and not every Black child will be placed with a Black foster carer. What can a non-Black foster carer do to ensure that they provide the child with the best possible care?

We think that in order to recognise and promote the culture and identity of the Black child, a cultural match is the best option. This is where the foster carer and the child both come from the same ethnic group.

Where this isn’t possible, the foster carer – be they non Black or Black but from a different ethnic group – must receive ongoing training and support, to gain the knowledge and practical skills to understand the culture and identity of the Black child, and provide holistic care.  

We know that ‘No man is an island’ (John Donne) and that ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ (African Proverbs). So with those quotes in mind, it’s important to understand that a foster carer will also need the help and support from people who are of the same ethnicity of the young person in care. It is this support that supervising social workers and fostering team managers must seek out and tap into, to make sure Black children can thrive and confidently own their identity and culture. 

In your opinion, are more Black foster carers needed in the UK and what can be done to recruit more?

Statistics tell us there is an overrepresentation of Black children and young people in care, and while there is an overall shortage of foster carers, there is also a shortage of Black foster carers. This then has a knock-on effect to the matching process mentioned, and so yes, I do believe more Black foster carers need to be recruited.

To do this, it would be great to see a National Black Fostering Network, led by Black foster carers and Black care experienced people, coming together from every region to campaign, recruit and train new Black foster carers. It would be great to also see Black fostering agencies formed to meet this need.

If there was one thing that you could change about the foster care system over night to support Black children in care better, what would that be?

I would work with a team to rewrite the law, policy and procedure, giving the system specific guidance and a fresh perspective on how to better care for a Black child or young person.

The issues Black children in care are faced with are not new and have been brought up time and time again. What can be done to implement real change?

At this stage, I do believe England’s Independent Children’s Social Care Review is best placed to instigate real change. However, it must be understood that for real change to take place at this level, the Review must take on board the concerns raised by the Black Care Experience and include our recommendations within their Report which is to be presented to our Government. 

Now, should the Government agree to accept and follow through on the recommendations, new guidance and policy will have to be written, to then be implemented in every children’s social care department. Once implemented, procedure and practice must be reviewed on a national annual basis to make sure we are not raising the same concerns in years to come.

With that in mind, if the Review or the Government do not take on board this process, then there is something to be said about being the change you want to see…

Last but not least, have there been any positive developments for Black children in care recently?

The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement have caused a few children’s social care departments to take a closer look at how they care for Black children in care, with an aim and action of doing better. I do sincerely hope that this will transcend to every children’s social care department across our country.