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Giving children in care the best start in life means tackling prejudice head on

Lily Mellen argues that children in care from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic backgrounds should be given the support they need, and that means challenging prejudice.

October marked Black History Month in the UK, as it has done for the last 30 years. It also hosts National Adoption Week, an annual occurrence with campaigns and events providing the opportunity for people to learn more about adoption.

These two events prompt me to reflect on the connection between ethnicity and outcomes for children in care in the UK – and my experience of working on the government’s programme to regionalise adoption.

Local authority data shows that BAME children are over-represented in the care system. What’s more, BAME children, and especially black boys, remain within the care system longer. The average white British child waits 919 days for adoption, compared 1,302 days – an additional year – for boys of black African descent.

Reasons for this are complex. Regional Adoption Agencies (RAA) and foster agencies report a lack of ethnic diversity amongst prospective carers. In 2019, Ofsted found 68% of local authorities had a shortage of foster carers from a BAME background.

More worryingly, adoption charity Homes for Good, has raised concerns that the lack of adoption of black boys is related to public perception. It reports that some prospective adopters are concerned they may be harder to support and are seen as more likely to engage in violence and crime once teenagers.

This suggests not only a problem within the social care system but within the wider community. It is paramount that any false perceptions are tackled head on as this perception will lead to a significant impact in childhood and adulthood.

Supporting BAME children in care is vital in order to find children some level of permanence and reduce the likelihood of them experiencing negative outcomes. Depending on where a children is in the care system, approaches to this can be separated into ‘before intervention’ and ‘after intervention’.

Before intervention

Local Authorities can adopt a ‘whole family’ approach to supporting families. Specialist integrated multi-disciplinary teams can work with children and their parents to encourage positive changes that prevent families getting to the point of crisis. An example of this is Hertfordshire County Council’s Family Safeguarding model. Services can also work to engage extended families, communities, schools and faith groups, which can help to ensure that children have support around them in order to help prevent a child going into care.

After Intervention

The National Adoption Recruitment campaign, driven by the RAAs, aims to shift the narrative that only a certain ‘type’ of family or person can adopt, and target more adopters from specific communities.

Negative attitudes and perceptions of ‘harder to place children’ can be addressed through training, which involves both adoptive families and social workers to help ensure that the best, long-term placement is planned, and the best match for the child is found.

A consistent and high-quality offer of life-long support to foster children, adopted children and their families is also key. This support should include therapeutic and emotional support, practical advice, and support in connecting with birth families. The Adoption Support Fund helps families by providing funding for support, such as art therapy, which can help children process trauma, secure their identity and build self-esteem.

Supporting all children

Children in care are the most vulnerable people in our society and we all have a responsibility to them. Leaders in local and central government, and the voluntary sector, have a duty to tackle inequality both within the care system and outside of it. At an individual level, we have a duty to educate ourselves, support local organisations, and reflect on our own behaviour and prejudices.

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