The literature looks previous and existing literature on how effective the local authorities are at promoting the needs of black African children and their families who are involved in the child protection system. 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.
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.
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
Research data and statistics on African black children are not constant and highlight mis-representations. 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 due to migration and the 2011 census will offer more up to date statistics. Also not everyone registers for the census especially black and minority people who are isolated and who do not have any immigration status might shy away from the census in fear of deportation. The department for education and skills (2006) estimated the number of African children in need to be 8000 in 2005. ‘this accounted for 3% of the overall total- an over-representation compared with the 2001 census in which African children made up 1.4% of the population’. Research highlights the over-representation of the African children and their families involved in the child protection system for example, data of African children is combined with afro-Caribbean children and ethnic minority children- statistical data from British children represented 5% of the children on the child protection register in 2005, but census data 2001, ‘black or black’ children made up 3% of the total population (national statistics, 2003). Research data continues to indicate that black communities are disproportionately represented across social welfare statistics (graham, 2006; barn et al 1997).
Britain has experienced a massive increase in population due to people coming into Britain for better lifestyles, escaping war, famine, torture and looking for better job opportunities. Britain has experience 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 diversity in terms of religion, culture, language and beliefs (Bernard and gupta 2008; gibbs and huang 2003; robinson 2007).
Research has shown that black families black African communities and ethnic communities are likely to live in poverty. There is well documented literature on social exclusion and poverty experienced by black African children which also is inclined to impact on the parenting abilities of parents. Also looking at histories and backgrounds of black African families is which add to poverty is also highlighted in research, (Bernard and gupta 2008; gibbs and huang 2003; robinson 2007). Research has shown some of the factors that affect African children and their families such as private fostering and asylum seeking, HIV/AIDS, poverty- highlighting grief, loss and separation, (Bernard and gupta 2008).
Review of the research suggest that black African children are almost twice as likely to be looked after, however some of these children will be accommodated under section 20 of the children act 1989 due to being unaccompanied asylum seeking children (Bernard and gupta 2008; robinson 2007; barn 1993). Jones 2001, highlights the conflict between the children act 1989 and immigration legislation and policy and Jones 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’. The number of refugee children arriving in uk is arising annually and the vulnerability of refugee children has legal, emotional and practical aspects (woodcock, 2003; chase, 2009). There is substantial evidence to indicate that many refugee children and young people from different cultures manifest symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health problems (Hodes, 2000, 2002; Ehntholt and Yule, 2006; Dyregrov and Yule, 2006).Research on social work with unaccompanied children is limited (kohli and mather 2003). Research also states that there is risk of alienating black children in care by not meeting their emotional and psychological needs due to no contact with community with same culture, family and lack of black workers (bran et al 1997 pg 9). However, available research data paint a complex and contradictory picture and data is combined with other minority ethnic children
Analysis of literature draws attention to that the way black African families parent their children and their daily lives had been neglected in many studies in child welfare literature and there is little empirical evidence especially about African parenting in Britain (Bernard, 2002 graham 2006). Research has looked at cultural values and how they influence parenting in African families involved with the child protection system (brophy et al 2003). Literature highlights that there is need to look at kin-ship and extended families. Family structures have been changed due to globalisation, war and other social factors. There is few research data on impact of culture, gender ideology, socio-economic status and religious belief influencing parenting and also notions of what constitutes harmful behaviour. The few data that exist states that; cultural practices appear to play some part in African children being involved in the child protection system, (mama 2004). Barn et al 2006 challenge popular myth and stereotype that some cultural groups have more punitive punishment practices. They found no significant differences between ethnic groups with regard to physical punishment of children-thoburn et al 2005 pg 83 agree. Nobes and smith 1997’s study of physical punishment by parents found physical punishment was universal in the 99 two parent families and Thompson et al 2002 found that 67 mothers in new forest are of England reported diverse behaviour management tactics and mothers who used physical punishment reported less behavioural problems in their children than mothers used reasoning. This supports the challenge the stereotypes that cultural groups have more punitive punishment practices because the majority of the above studies involved parenting by white culture in the United Kingdom. Studies on parenting by other black and ethnic cultures are scarce and there is need for research. A growing body of literature emphasises the importance of appreciating the social contexts of parenting and lived experiences of African children for making sense of child maltreatment (Holland 2004, Robinson 2007).
Black perspective is based on the notion of common experiences that black people in Britain share and it is critical of oppressive research paradigm and theoretical formulations that have a potential oppressive effect on black people, (Robinson 2007). An understanding of black frame of reference will enable social work professionals to come up with more accurate and comprehensive assessments of African black children involved with the child protection system, (Robinson 2007).
Ecological perspective is important in analysis of impacts of poverty, discrimination, immigration and social isolation on black and minority children (gibbons and huang 2003 pg 3). However there is the danger of over-generalisation and stereotyping because individual members of a culture may vary greatly from the pattern that is typical within that culture (Robinson 1998)
Research argues that postmodern theories have gained a strong foothold in the profession of social work (pease and fook 1999; learnard 1997). However Their tenets have been strongly contested by those demanding a more complex understanding of identity, i.e., one that links the personal with the structural or collective elements of human existence alongside the individual ones (Dominelli 2002; graham 2002) and those drawing on the idea that what holds people together are what they share in common or their sameness (Badiou 2001). The lack of appropriate preventative suppoirt servives and lack of understanding of cultural of black families often result in social work operating against the interests of black children (barn 1993, graham 2002)
Anti-discriminatory perspectives and incorporation of knowledge from service users
Social workers contribute to the perpetuation of oppression through their practice by directly or indirectly engaging in structural oppression – its institutional and cultural forms that are integral elements in the ways in which social relations in a globalising world have been organised, (dominelli 2007). Key to eliminating structural forms of racism is that of addressing the issue of binary dyads that reaffirm racist dynamics rather than challenging them. Nonetheless, resistance to its perpetuation is evident in many of the responses by service users and practitioners. Social work educators and practitioners have much more to contribute to the elimination of oppression. (dominelli 2007). Social work has operated within a problem oriented framework which is characterised by deficit and dysfunctional theories of black families (Robinson 2008). 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. Fifty-four young people participated in the research. Chase, 2009 study-The majority (80 per cent) of participants were identified through a single London local Authority, 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. The positioning of social workers within the asylum system is a difficult one to negotiate. They are expected to apply social care principles such as ‘the best interests of the child’, yet work within very clear organisational boundaries and regulatory codes-frequently dictated by resource and funding limitations.
The Climbie inquiry (laming 2003) highlights the challenges faced by local authorities when developing information-sharing indexes for keeping insight of the children who are on the margins of society and whose lives are characterised by transitions. 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)
The fear of being seen as a racist combined with cultural stereotypes can lead to a failure to make judgements and intervene appropriately regarding practices that are harmful (burman et al 2004 study)
Whilst their views should form part of policy related discussions on current topics, respect for children’s rights may still be lacking. Meanwhile, such notions challenge us to take children seriously and to appreciate their contribution to social reproduction and change (Aubrey and Dahl 2006). Lots of research appear to focus on empowerment through cultural knowledge inviting new thinking about the challenges faced by black communities
Relevance to policy and practice
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
The framework for assessment of children in need and their families (DoH, 2000) based on the ecological approach places a requirement on workers to consider families histories and social circumstances and literature of anti-oppressive practice stresses the importance if consideration being paid to power relationships (dlrybple and burke 1995). There must be some understanding of the links between people’s personal experience of pressing and structural reality if inequality pg 123
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)
This review has highlighted that multiple social, environmental and parental factors interact in complex ways to bring black African children into the child protection arena. Thus, making professional judgments regarding thresholds of concern for African children poses a major set of challenges and, ultimately, practitioners need the skills, knowledge and conceptual tools to distinguish between the styles of parenting that differ from those of the majority culture, but which are not necessarily harmful, and parents who seek to justify abusive and neglectful behaviour by drawing on cultural explanations to justify their actions.
Cite This Work
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below: