Sharon McPherson, co-founder of Families in Harmony and kinship care expert, writes on how the care review fails to “deep-dive” into practices through the lens of racial equity.
I was thrust into the world of kinship care when both my son and daughter became teenage parents just over 17 years ago, giving birth to their first children about two weeks apart.
My son’s child entered the care system at eight months old and was adopted around 19 months. This adoption broke down less than three years later. He remained in foster care for a further two years before his circumstances were brought to my attention, even though I had maintained letter box contact right the way through all of those traumatic years.
Once I knew my grandchild was back in the care system, I spent 18 months jumping through hoops, being interrogated, travelling over a hundred miles for contact visits weekly, sometimes more, all because I was determined to bring my grandchild back into the family. Yes, that day did come, but only after I gave up my career and moved out of London, all at my own cost, to be with my grandson for a year, to reacquaint, build trust and strengthen our relationship.
On several occasions I have been told how rare it is for an adoption to break down when a child is so young, and how fortunate I am to have my grandchild back in the family. My reality is I consider myself blessed that day we returned to London together. I have been his special guardian for over ten years now and continue to support my grandchild to make sense of this traumatic early childhood of being among the less than 1% of care experienced children whose journey spans across foster care, adoption and kinship care.
But the truth is my grandchild didn’t have to go through that experience. I was always willing to have stepped into the parent role. His care experience narrative was made complicated by racial bias, professionals’ lack of cultural competency and understanding of the Black family.
For the last five years I have used my lived experience as a Black kinship carer to assist with supporting other kinship families to know their rights and make informed decisions. I co-founded Families In Harmony (FIH) to shine a light on the issue of racial disparities in kinship care.
This quest for levelling up in kinship care specifically relating to racial equity leads me into my following reflections on the recent care review report.
The independent Review of Children’s Social Care, spearheaded by Josh MacAlister, not only published its final report last month, but also a sub report “Racial and ethnic disparities in children’s social care” that appears to be gaining less traction in the public domain of responses and social media conversations.
As a Black kinship carer who did get involved in the care review focus groups, even participating in a 1-1 meeting specifically to discuss racial disparities, it is apparent to me that despite the efforts that had been made, the engagement levels of the Black experience are lacking in this review. The care review representative that Johanna Bernard (co-founder of FIH) and I met with, was at least honest in saying they had struggled to gain traction in engaging a truly representative lived experience voice from the Black kinship carers in the review process.
Without running the risk of tokenism, how can the ‘more generous help offer’ from the ‘revolution in family help’ truly bring about change, when the language being used is still so colonial, for example “Embedding local Family Help Teams into communities.” Surely, we have moved away from parachuting saviours into communities and now recognise an approach of humility and respect requires an organic process of growing from within. Investment in upskilling local communities to occupy the Family Help Team space has got to be a significant priority for the £2.6 billion government investment.
There must be real financial investment made in the area of racial competency training, racial disparity research and African Caribbean-centred trauma-informed practice and parenting programmes. Most importantly, all contracts related to the implementation of the recommendations must have demonstrable evidence from the provider of co-production with the communities they intend to be of service to.
The recommendation for more specific race and ethnic data collection relating to court outcomes which will begin to highlight racial disparities across regions is welcomed. As is the co-design of services with the families whose needs they are intended to serve. What is lacking is the specifics to how issues such as the trauma experienced and ingrained mistrust now present within the Black community because of children’s social care, birthed from the historical and ongoing systemic racial biases. How can a ‘revolutionary review’ truly be such, if it fails to deep dive into its own fundamental structures and review all its policies, procedures and practices through the lens of racial equity?
About the Author
Sharon McPherson co-founder of Families In Harmony with Johanna Bernard, calling for the development of racial and cultural trauma-informed practice alongside African Caribbean-centred parenting programmes. Sharon works part-time for the charity Kinship and sits on their lived experience advisory board. She is also a member of the Kinship Care Alliance (KCA) led by Family Rights Group (FRG) and co-chair of the KCA racial equalities subcommittee. Sharon is involved with racial equity co-production work with various member organisations of KCA including CoramBaaf.
Sharon has just joined the 2022 Spokesperson Network programme delivered by Sounddelivery Media.