Mis- and under-representation of Black people in fostering
Speaking to Black foster carers Fiona, Ingrid and Paulette make one thing very clear; all three of them love fostering and are immensely passionate about making a difference to young people’s lives. But they also want to make foster care the very best it can be.
Here they tell us about their experience of fostering and share their thoughts around the stigmatisation of Black children in care, matching and the recruitment of Black foster carers.
‘I have noticed that there are sometimes low expectations for looked after children’, says Fiona, who was in care herself.
‘My husband and I have dealt with schools that have set the bar very low in terms of achievement. When one of our children was set homework, the teacher said it was ok if he just did the easiest section even though the child was able to complete even the hard sections with a little encouragement.’ The same child was also unfairly accused of cheating in tests after having had improved a lot.
The stigmatisation of Black children
While Fiona considers this a general issue that care experienced young people are faced with, she highlights that low expectations are often exacerbated for children from a Black and ethnic minority background.
‘We have also noticed that labels can be quickly applied or rather mis-applied to children who are looked after. In one case we saw a young Black boy labelled as disruptive or aggressive when similar behaviour from his white classmates was seen as just overly enthusiastic or just a little boisterous. We have seen labels such as ADHD or bi-polar bandied about and applied to a child without a specific medical diagnosis.’
The stigmatisation of Black children, all three women agree, is something that needs to be addressed – even within their own community – when talking about the care system.
Ingrid, who started to foster two years ago, tells us that, in conversation with other foster carers, she was advised to not take in Black children ‘as they are “too much trouble”. Black children are often perceived in a very negative light even by their own race’, she tells us. ‘And this stigma must be broken.’
Finding the perfect match
The three foster carers all think that Black foster carers would be best placed to look after Black children ‘because it is an advantage if the foster carer and the child they look after have a similar ethnic and cultural background.
Fiona said that it helped give some insights, not just in terms of culture and identity but also relating to challenges the young people will be faced with. ‘Beyond being placed in an environment where there is understanding, respect of culture, beliefs and identity, Black children also need to receive support to be able to deal with the ongoing negative impact the racism and discrimination has, that they experience on a regular basis’, Paulette says, who has been fostering for 27 years and considers being a foster carer one of the most enjoyable and rewarding journeys of her life.
Where a close culture match isn’t possible, however, issues that can arise from cross-cultural or trans-racial placements, such as neglected skin and hair care, or a lack of focus on identity and culture, need to be mitigated. This can be done with the help of fostering services, the foster care community or other networks around the foster carer.
‘My local authority provides lots of training courses and resources for carers to call upon to make sure that foster carers are well equipped to care for children who are of a different ethnicity to themselves’, Fiona says positively. ‘There are carers from minoritised ethnic groups willing to buddy-up and provide advice. We also have cultural event days and festivals’ – all to help those foster carers who look after a child who is of a different ethnic background than themselves.
Ingrid experienced first-hand how useful drawing on the fostering community can be when looking after a child from a different – in her case religious – background. She recently cared for a boy from Afghanistan and asked advice from Muslim neighbours on how to meet all his cultural needs.
Even though she did all she could, the boy asked to be moved to live with a Muslim family which, as Ingrid says, ‘proves what we said before about how important it can be for a child to be culturally close to their foster carers’.
Representation is key
One way to create change for Black children in care would be to recruit more Black foster carers. But fostering services up and down the UK seem to struggle with that.
‘Fostering just needs to be more accessible for people who are interested’, says Ingrid. ‘There is too much red tape which puts people off. Simplify the process and change the style of recruiting, make it more real, more fun, increase the allowances… You shouldn’t have to dip into your own pockets to look after a child. We also need to reach out to a more diverse range of people: younger ones, members of the LGBTQ+ community, single male carers, who we need more of.’
Paulette puts fostering services’ struggle to recruit Black foster carers down to ‘a lack of understanding, awareness, knowledge, empathy and respect for minoritised ethnic communities.’
She criticises that communication with minoritised ethnic groups is not effective enough and that only little has changed nationally over many years in regards to recruitment and retention of Black foster carers. She argues that more Black staff has to be recruited to senior positions to address that.
‘Realistically, we need more Black people higher up, who are willing to set up and champion a recruitment programme and are not afraid to challenge professionals and the status quo; who can champion the voices of both Black foster carers and Black children that are currently unheard.’