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How Effective Is The Local Authority Social Work Essay

The literature looks at previous and existing literature on how effective the local authorities are at promoting the needs of black African children and their families. In previous years there have been deaths of African children such Victoria Climbie and khyra Ishaq. There have also been deaths of other African children in Britain linked to witchcraft. A theme echoed by the majority of the literature is that if social work practice and policy is to prevent these tragedies there is need to understand and acknowledge different contexts of culture and diversity. The main theme is how to provide social work interventions and family support that are culturally sensitive and competent to both children and their families who are at risk of significant harm. There is need for social work professional to understand parenting practices in African families and protect children hence every child matters was implemented. The laming report (2009) set out challenges faced safeguarding children such as, "training and workforce issues still need to be resolved and data systems need to be improved and there is still need improve knowledge and skills to understand children and their family circumstances. Also the laming report noted that despite the progress in inter-agency working there are still problems of day to day reality of working across organisational boundaries and culture, sharing information and lack of feedback when professionals raise concerns about a child".

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In this literature review I will be focusing on black African children and their families analysing their experiences of the child protection system that have come to live in united kingdom and how the children are protected in the child protection arena. I will be paying attention to key themes and debates in research, validity and generalisability of data, gaps in research and future implications to practice. I will be using the term 'black African' throughout the review of literature; however I recognise that there are different races in Africa who share the same culture and beliefs.

Literature search

Material used for the literature reviewed varies; I included journals searched online, books from the library and articles from the internet and material published by the government. As I searched the online journals and books I discovered there was little material about my chosen topic and scarce research on the topic of the needs of black African children and child protection children. Most studies and literature focused on black and minority ethnics and mixed parentage children hence the proportion of black African children can be over-represented in these studies and the data cannot be generalised easily to the wider population. There is need for professionals to have knowledge about the identity and diversity of black African children and their families because Britain has seen an enormous growth of African people due globalisation and other environmental factors such as war, famine and work opportunities. However not all children from African families get involved in the child protection system.

Review of the literature

In reviewing existing literature it is important to first acknowledge the population of black African people in U.K. Research data and statistics on African black families are not constant and highlight over-representations, Bernard and Gupta (2008). Inconsistencies can be seen in research studies for example gibbons et al 1995 in their study of physical injury found an overrepresentation of black and Asian children, however, this was not the case in the study by brophy et al (2003) of child ill-treatment in minority ethnic families. However these studies appear to involve mainly minority ethnic participants hence they can not be easily generalised to the black African population. According to the 2001 census, the population of black African people was 0.8%. However, these statistics are from 2001 and the populations could have increased or decreased due to migration and the 2011 census will offer more up to date statistics for validity. Also not everyone registers for the census especially black and ethnic minority people who are isolated and who do not have any immigration status might shy away from the census in fear of deportation. A recurrent theme in most articles is the over-representation of black African children and their families who are involved in the welfare system, (Bernard and Gupta 2008). Most research done on black African children is combined with other ethnic minority families, for example, graham 2007; Gibbons et al.'s 1995. Research agrees that black African children and their families are disproportionately represented across social welfare statistics (graham, 2006; barn et al 1997; Bernard and Gupta 2008).

A lot of authors have pointed out that Britain has seen a growth in population due to a number of things such as better job opportunities, fleeing war and torture. Britain has experienced a rise in the number of people claiming asylum and some of them are unaccompanied asylum seeking children. When looking at experiences of black African children and their families and how to offer them appropriate intervention it is important to acknowledge background in terms of religion, culture, language and beliefs (Bernard and gupta 2008; gibbs and huang 2003; robinson 2007).

There are recurring themes in literature about ethnicity and poverty and research found that most black African and ethnic minorities live in poverty and social exclusion due to a number of factors and how this impacts parenting, (Bernard and gupta 2008; gibbs and huang 2003; robinson 2007). Most research agrees on the factors that affect African families such as asylum seeking, HIV/AIDS, poverty, loss and separation (Bernard and gupta 2008). Young (1990) states that black children often experience multiple-oppression for example they suffer from stereotypes from society and also they are invisible to child wefare system. Graham 1999 goes on to argue that intervention with African families are at the centre of wider debates and conflict; and evidence from research continues to show over-representation of African children and their families in child protection. The debates seem to focus on power imbalances and how to involve African families to gain control over their lives, (Graham, 1999; Young, 1990).

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One of the issues discussed in literature is differences in looked after care children and its noted that black African children are twice as likely to be looked after than white children and this is due to a number of reasons. Children who come to England as unaccompanied asylum seeking children are looked after by local authorities under section 20, (Bernard and gupta 2008; robinson 2007; barn 1993). There has been research critically examining the treatment of asylum seeking children and the child protection system and there is argument between the children act 1989 and immigration legislation and policy and Jones (2001) argues that 'social work profession singularly failed to provide critical scrutiny on the status and relationship of immigration and child care law and the erosion of children's rights'. Other researchers agree with Jones 2001 that vulnerability of asylum seeking children has emotional and legal aspects, (woodcock, 2003; chase, 2009). Kohli 2006, argues that legislation obstruct the provision of preventative services to vulnerable children and their families. Research has highlighted the fragility of African children who claim asylum such as having suffering trauma due to their circumstances that led them to claim asylum such as war and torture, (Hodes, 2000, 2002; Ehntholt and Yule, 2006; Dyregrov and Yule, 2006). Research shows that there is a gap in research on asylum seeking children and social work to inform practice, (kohli and mather 2003).

A lot of literature appears to draw attention to the parenting in African families and how their culture is neglected in a lot researches and there is little empirical evidence especially about African parenting in Britain (Bernard, 2002; graham 2006). Parenting by African families is entwined into an already debate of what constitutes child abuse (francis, 1993; chand 2000)There is well documented literature focused on how culture influence parenting of African families involved with child protection system, (brophy et al 2003). Literature highlights extended families and different family structures that exist in African families; however, there is need to acknowledge that family structures change over time due to globalisation, war and migration. There is research data on impacts of economic status, religious beliefs and gender ideologies on parenting in African families and what they consider to be harmful behaviour towards children, (mama 2004). However the research is limited but the little data that exists poses the notion that cultural practices appear to play some part in African children being involved in the child protection system, (mama, 2004). A lot of literature suggests that African families practice harsh punishment for children, however, Barn et al 2006; thoburn et al 2005; nobes and smith 1997, challenge such stereotypes and in their study they found no significant differences between ethnic groups with regard to physical punishment. However, these studies cannot be generalised to African families easily because the majority of the participants where white parents. There is gap in research on the parenting by black African families and a recurrent theme in literature is the need to acknowledge cultural and social contexts of parenting and experience of African black families to make sense of child abuse and provide appropriate intervention for children and families involved in the child protection system, (Holland 2004, Robinson 2007). A focus on ethnicity or identity, preclude issues of power and oppression operating in the everyday experiences of children's lives to be appreciated. (Graham, 2007)

Different theories and perspective inform knowledge base in literatures surrounding African children and the child protection system. When researching this area there is need to look at experience of African people and their involvement with child protection hence researchers can use the black perspective which is based on the notion of common experiences that black people share. The black perspective criticises repressive research and theories that are likely to oppress black people, (Robinson 2007). African families will always refer to their culture as frame of reference to their parenting capacities (Bernard and gupta, 2008) and understanding and acknowledgement of the black frame of reference will enable social workers to come up with accurate and comprehensive assessments of African black children involved with the child protection system, (Robinson 2007).

Other literature is based on the ecological perspective and highlights the importance to analyse the impacts of social exclusion, poverty and immigration on black African children and their families, (gibbons and huang 2003). However, robinson 1998 argues that there is a danger of over-generalising and stereotyping because individual members from the same culture can behave differently from the pattern that is typical of that culture.

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However, other researchers argue that postmodern theories have gained popularity in social work, (pease and fook 1999; learnard 1997). Researchers have argued against postmodern theories who want a better understanding of identity, combining personal with structural elements of living (Dominelli 2002; graham 2002), drawing on the idea of what holds people together, (Badiou 2001). The lack of appropriate preventative support services which are culture sensitive often result in social work operating against the interests of black children involved in child protection, (barn 1993, graham 2002). Social work has operated within a problem oriented framework which is characterised by deficit and dysfunctional theories of black families (Robinson 2008).

Anti-discriminatory perspectives and incorporation of knowledge from service users

Thompson, (2008) states that anti-discriminatory practice has been used in Britain to account for good practice in social work to counter structural disadvantages however, graham 1999, argues that anti-discriminatory practice fails to provide a knowledge base for social work that is 'engaged in the collective development of the black community'. Professionals can indirectly oppress African children and their families through practice for example, by imposing their personal values or power, (dominelli 2007). Dominelli (2007), argues that there is need to address the systems that reaffirm racist dynamics rather than challenging them. Dominelli (1992) argues that black children and families are over-represented in the controlling aspects of social work and under-represented in the welfare aspects of social work.

Problems with communication and working in partnership have been highlighted in literature. Chase's (2009) study found that young people described complex relationships with social workers and other social care professionals and were also more mistrustful of the interplay between social care and immigration services. This study identifies service users' feelings through qualitative research. However the research was small scale and has generalisibility problems but it is important to apply to a bigger scale studies.

Recent policy has tried to enforce advocacy as a way of promoting social justice and incorporate disadvantaged groups' views on the services that are appropriate for them. In bowes and sims 2006 empirical study, they found that black and minority ethnic communities gave support to advocacy services however they were still marginalised by the services they were already using.

Research looks at service user involvement buchanan 2007; bernard 2002 taking in their lived experiences. There is no empirical research study that in uk that encorporates views from African children and families I came across for example, Chase, 2009 study- Young people often described complex relationships with social workers and other social care professionals and were also more mistrustful of the interplay between social care and immigration services:' Hellen, from Ethiopia, said:

Sometimes they don't understand you when you are sad. They keep asking you questions. It makes me angry; it makes me want to shout. It makes me remember all the bad things and they don't understand that. If they ask me (questions) I will suffer for months'. This is important for social workers to find appropriate interventions. Most of the research is mixed other black and ethnic minority children. However the few children views used in the studies can be used for a bigger scale studies in future. There appears to be a need of qualitative research and literature that includes an extensive study of black African children's perspectives and experiences, (Graham 2007).

Relevance to policy and practice

Making cultural stereotypes and having the fear of being seen as a racist can end up in a failure to make judgements and intervene appropriately regarding cultural practices that are harmful to African children (burman et al 2004). Laming 2003 highlights the misjudgements made on the climbie's case based on cultural assumptions that led to a tragedy. Literature highlights some of the challenges for social work assessing and making decisions about African children and families whose cultures differ from the majority white population (brophy et al 2003, laming 2003).

Using the ecological approach the framework for assessment of children in need and their families (DoH, 2000), places a requirement on social work professionals cultural background and socio-economic positions of families paying attention to power imbalances in relationships, (dlrybple and burke 1995). Dalrymple and burke (1995) argue that an understanding is needed of the association between personal experience and structural realism of inequality. Therefore service users perspectives should form part policies and legislation respecting and literature highlights that children's rights may still lack from policy and legislation, therefore, these notions challenge professionals to take children's views seriously and appreciate their contribution to research, (Aubrey and Dahl 2006). Lots of research appears to focus on empowerment through cultural knowledge inviting new thinking about the challenges faced by black communities, (Aubrey and Dahl 2006). The complex social circumstance experiences by many African families pose challenges for parents, children and social work professionals working to safeguard and promote children's welfare.

In order to safeguard and promote welfare of African children acknowledgement of sources of discrimination and oppression, a commitment to human rights and social justice must be met. Through developing effective relationships with African children and families can professionals begin to understand their individual, emotional as well as practical needs. Global mobility and consequent changing nature of communities require local authorities to be proactive in gathering information and developing services including interpretation services that are responsive to the needs of African and minority ethnic families. Several authors have critically analysed the evidence on service provision for black families in general. A pathologising approach to black families may lead to unnecessary coercive intervention and on the other hand a cultural relativist approach may lead to a non-intervention when services are required (dominelli 1997, chand 2000). Either way appropriate intervention is not provided for black and ethnic minority children. The quality of services in black communities is a focus for debate and raises important issues about the lack of policy initiatives based upon needs and aspirations of local communities (graham 2002)

Subjecting cultural practices to scrutiny is a necessary party of the assessment process of professionals are to achieve better outcomes for children. A balance must be struck between sensitively challenging claims that certain types of behaviour are the norm in African families whilst at the same time not losing sight of children's welfare needs. By drawing on strengths perspective professionals can illuminate how parents draw on cultures a s a resource to parents in circumstance of adversity whilst not excusing behaviour that is harmful to children. The issue of punishment is one of the most controversial areas relating to black families, child abuse and social work (chand 2000 pg 72)


The literature reviewed highlights recurring themes and debates in the provision of services to black African children who are involved in the child welfare system. The factors that affect black African children and their children have been highlighted and how they play a role in the involvement of children into the child protection system. A key them is cultural differences and how professional judgement can oppress African children and their families. However there is need to acknowledge cultural differences, empowering families but also protecting children from child abuse which can be mistaken for cultural norm. The major challenges identified by the literature review are how to challenge oppression, and increase the knowledge base and skills for professional workers to work in an anti-discriminatory practice.

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