Young people of colour in care

I was never in care. 

I’d say from around year 3 (8 years old) I could remember strange grown-ups coming round to my house and agitating my mum and dad. I can remember having briefings with my parents on what I could and couldn’t say to these strangers and the knowledge that if I failed in these duties that I would likely be taken away from my parents with my siblings, and that we would likely be separated after that to live with different people. I can remember a big argument one of these strangers had with my dad that culminated in two security guards accompanying that particular stranger to all subsequent visits. This stranger was one that had become a somewhat permanent fixture in my young life, and I remember being interviewed by her in a separate room and telling her very little about what was actually going on and anything I did say was positive. ‘Us’ and ‘them’. 

I have a white mother and a black father. My childhood was turbulent to say the least and it was understandable why there was social services involvement, looking back as an adult who has a more well-rounded view of social services in general. I came from an area where a large proportion of the population were poor, and of those, the majority were of black and minority ethnic backgrounds. Many parents of the kids I grew up with had alcohol or substance misuse issues and many of those kids got taken into care. I don’t know if it was because they didn’t get the strict briefings I did when social workers came round probing, or if a particular thing happened that couldn’t be explained away. I have a good friend who was orphaned by the time he got to secondary school because his parents died of substance abuse so there was absolutely nothing he could do to stop himself from going into care. 

All the young people I know who got taken into care were black or mixed race. None are what I would call fully functioning members of society and never have been. All had been in children’s homes at some point during the 90’s and early 2000s and none got adopted. The closest they got to that was fostering. I count myself lucky that my siblings and I never went into care and I am so grateful I had the briefings, as the eldest sibling, to ensure we stayed where we were and help was eventually given. 

It wasn’t until my mother nearly died of alcoholism when I was 11 that proper help was finally given to my family. The first option seemed to be to take me and my siblings away, from conversations and leading questions I still remember with social workers. My mum was in hospital for weeks, severely underweight and dying but when she survived, they booked her into the Florence Nightingale Hospital (a minute away from where I live now, oddly enough). It’s a rehab center and it helped to save her life. We also got moved from the area to another area which was more violent but didn’t have the negative influences and friendship circles that the previous area had. The road was hard and there were setbacks but she’s now fully recovered and is a massive reason I am able to do the work I do today. She’s the only person I listen to a lot of the time, especially when it comes to benefits, housing and anything like that.  

I have changed young people’s lives. I have written off thousands of pounds’ worth of debts, challenged councils and won, got better housing for young people, better educational opportunities for young people with a dream, kept young people out of prison and much more because of the advice and knowledge she’s passed on to me. She taught me to be tenacious and even stopped me from being evicted a few years ago for a fault that wasn’t my own. When I moved into my housing association property, there were defects with the gas and electricity supply and neither worked.  Years later, I was accused of rigging them to give myself unlimited gas and electricity and threatened with eviction. I spoke to my mum and told her what happened and she sent me photocopies of a diary from 2007 with the names of the exact engineers, reference numbers, times and dates of work and what they did. That proved that my energy supply was faulty when I moved in and that I had nothing to do with the set up. Through research she did, she realised that the way I moved into the property was illegal on their part and they quickly retracted their accusations and I kept my home. 

My dad passed nearly 7 years ago to the day, but he taught me to be self-sufficient. He was a Head Chef in top restaurants years ago and he taught me how to cook a variety of different cuisines (West African, French and Italian) and still laughs at me in my mind when I open up the oven with my face directly in front of it, something I think I’ll always do. 

I’m not going to go into statistics with my blog post. They are easily available if you want to search them out and they will corroborate my points. The number of black or minority ethnic children in care is disproportionally high and once in care, those of a black or minority ethnic background are more likely to go into residential care, which as I mentioned before has a detrimental effect on them once they reach adulthood. Residential care and especially unregulated children’s homes have received a lot of media attention in recent years and we know that growing up in residential care is challenging at best and can have multiple detrimental effects on young people’s long-term development and adulthood. Children of a black or minority ethnic background are put in care more quickly than other groups and have less access to support services. Those that do get support services will likely experience institutional racism or practices based on institutional racism. I’m eternally grateful, but who knows, if it had been my dad dying in the hospital bed, whether he would have been given place at Florence Nightingale. 

With the support my mum received I was able to get to know both of my parents, learn from them after the rough seas and grow into a fully functioning member of society who is able to help others. If the ‘go to’ continues to be displacing black and brown children when their parents are struggling at a comparatively high rate, we will continue to see fractious and damaged parent and child relationships, exacerbated by the state and both will be being failed.  

There are of course times where a child must be taken away from their parents, I’m not denying that. Victoria Climbie could still be alive if social services had intervened and taken her out of her aunt’s custody. I know that child social workers are balancing on a tight rope of when and how to intervene with families in trouble and I am not calling every social worker a child snatcher. What I am saying, is that if the government perhaps gave more money to councils, allocated for the provision of support strategies for parents of colour or mixed heritage couples with children, more young people of colour could have a chance at life in adulthood and not mere survival. 

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