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The culturally competent child and family social worker: What do we know? What do we need to know? June Thoburn

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Presentation on theme: "The culturally competent child and family social worker: What do we know? What do we need to know? June Thoburn"— Presentation transcript:

1 The culturally competent child and family social worker: What do we know? What do we need to know? June Thoburn

2 My interest in the subject Longitudinal study of minority ethnic children placed for adoption or permanent foster care Evaluations of family support and child protection in multi-cultural London Synthesis of literature on services to families of minority ethnic origin Study of administrative data on children in care in 28 jurisdictions (special focus on indigenous over- representation) Work with SOS Kinderdorf International

3 Overview of presentation ‘Cultural competence’ - in the literature and in policy and practice The discourse of ‘difference’ The clients who are most in need of a culturally competent social work service Family support and child protection practice - with recent immigrants - people who are ‘visibly different’ - people with communication issues Implications for child protection and out-of-home care services

4 The changing discourse From ‘coloured’ to ‘Black’ to ‘minority ethnic’ to ‘BME’; (in USA) ‘people of colour’; in Australia ‘CALD’ Move from ‘anti-discriminatory practice’ (recognise and combat institutional and individual racism, ‘disablism’) (serious attempt to recruit social workers from minority groups) to cultural competence (includes anti- discriminatory- more inclusive – more positive – recognises stigma and stereotyping within and between ethnic groups)

5 Definitions: cultural competences Awareness, attitude, approach ‘ most often refers to practice that is geared towards knowledge of and skills in working with cultural groups other than one’s own’ Korbin, (2002) But even if worker and client share a cultural tradition ‘ differences in education, socioeconomic status, gender, age, or other life experiences may create substantial communication and interpretation barriers that must be overcome’

6 Culture in context (Visibly different) ethnic groups Different religions Different cultures (parenting practices/ methods of discipline) Different languages (interpreters) Long resident - recent arrivals Well-off/vulnerable through poverty Urban/rural (Country of origin and present) Class/caste gender differences Children- parents- elders Adults/ children traumatised Host society approach assimilationist/ multi-cultural

7 ‘recent elaborations on the culture concept point out that children are not passive recipients of socialization into their culture but shape and reinterpret it’ Identifying culture by racial type/ skin colour ‘may not be meaningful designations of culture or ethnicity but instead serve as proxies for economic status’ Korbin, 2002 ‘ Culture and Child Maltreatment Child Abuse and Neglect 26

8 Cultural competence in social work context Underpinning ideas not new to social work: ‘person in environment’ ‘ecological models’ ‘psycho-social casework’ The ‘culture’ of bringing up children in materially and emotionally impoverished environments (Garbarino, 1977) Link with the social work discourse of ‘empathy’ –‘start where the client is’ The issue of power/ powerlessness in social work encounters, especially in child protection services (anti-oppressive practice- partnership approaches

9 Areas of practice Community social work –supporting vulnerable groups and families Working with recent arrivals Unaccompanied minors Trafficked children Responding to allegations of abuse and neglect Children in short and long term care National and international adoption

10 Some issues/ debates Recruiting ethnic minority social workers Issues around matching of social worker with client Matching children in care with substitute parents Social work via interpreter and translation service Sensitive recording – self identification- multiple-heritage Working with/ challenging immigration services

11 ‘Matching’ variables Can be on the dimension of: Ethnic group/ skin colour; country of origin; religion; language; shared experience as immigrants Some clients prefer ‘matched’ worker (but prioritise different dimensions) Some prefer worker from ‘host’ country Some don’t mind- so long as they get a good service So- if possible- allow for client preference

12 Reasons for matching culture of social worker and client Often avoids need to work through interpreter Even if interpreter not needed, shared culture aids communication and ‘accurate empathy’ In child abuse cases, accuracy of communication about what actually happened and why is crucial Avoids dangers of ‘cultural relativism fear of allegations of racism

13 ‘talking to her, I felt free to say just how I felt about it. But if I was dealing with a white worker, I would probably be wondering ‘Now how do I put this so it doesn’t seem sd if I’m trying to make trouble….It’s not essential to have a black worker’ ‘my social worker is very good but I can’t talk to her myself. It always has to be through a support worker and I am not sure what they say or whether the social worker knows what I am asking for’

14 Reasons to have a worker of ‘host’ community For parents: To maintain client confidentiality To avoid people with whom they have conflicts in their country/culture of origin For child To avoid over-identification by worker and less focus on risk to the child For social workers: Career prospects/ job satisfaction narrowed if only work with particular groups Can lead to vulnerability (including own family) within their cultural group

15 From researcher field notes: ‘ The father appreciated having a social worker allocated even though he has sources of practical and emotional support. He thinks members of his community in London are ‘mostly interfering’. He meets people at church, but would always turn to solicitors, social workers, if he needed help, and not to the church or people from his country of origin’ ‘I don’t like this continual interference. Sometimes they come when I have visitors. They start questioning me in front of visitors, which is an insult in our community and culture…. My husband was angry about this incident, so when the worker went into our shop he told her off, which she didn’t like.

16 Young care leaver considering quality of service more important than ethnicity ‘ Being a social worker is a treacherous job. There’s no tips I can give. Social workers need to read between the lines and observe young people, because they may not tell them everything. You can’t teach that sort of thing. Social workers either have it or they don’t. My [ethnically matched] social worker didn’t. Or if she did, she couldn’t care a damn’.

17 Essential elements of cultural competence and sensitivity Willingness to listen and learn- (could use cultural ‘champions’) Know and work with your community Ability to brief and work through interpreters (never use children as interpreters importance of having interpreters who understand child abuse issues/language) Understanding and sensitivity to power differentials Willingness to ‘go the extra mile’ Training and casework supervision

18 Some research findings Family support and child protection With a small number of exceptions, families in all ethnic groups, including most of those referred for child protection concerns or whose children need out-of- home care, want what is best for their children. Poverty, racial abuse, living in depressing and unsafe environments, and poor physical and in some cases mental health and disability are the main reasons why minority families may need extra/ different help.

19 Complexity may lead to inappropriate/ hasty (risk-averse) conclusions (eg around child protection needs) and entry to out- of-home care eg in Denmark, children from immigrant families are reunified from care at a higher rate than higher rate than Danish children and are less likely to return to care after return home.

20 Different stresses within and between ethnic groups may lead to the need for additional help – e.g. higher rate of genetic disabilities among South Asian children (long settled); anxiety about immigration status. High level of prejudice/ racism eg Roma; indigenous children In England, South and East Asians are less likely to refer themselves and may be more likely to be drawn unnecessarily into the formal child protection and court systems because of delayed referrals. Particular issues around religious cults/ demonstrably significantly harmful child rearing practices Teenage/ adult gang membership

21 A majority of UK parents across ethnic groups disapprove of the use of physical punishments but may still use them (not illegal in UK) but there are issues around different approaches to - physical chastisement - child supervision and responsibility that draw some minority ethnic families into the formal child protection systems.

22 Physical abuse and physical discipline Is physical chastisement always ‘child abuse’ ‘Differences in parental behaviours of disciplining, such as physical punishment, are as individualistic as parents themselves and cannot be considered abusive or benign without close examination of the entire family system, the child’s functioning, and other parental behaviours, such as use of reasoning and nurturing behaviours which may serve to buffer the possible harmful effects of physical punishment’ (Ferrari 2002) When to use a legalistic approach and when a child welfare approach. ‘It is against the law and if you continue to do it you will be prosecuted’ rather than ‘you need a social worker’

23 Outcomes of community social work Very little on child and family outcomes for different methods and ethnic groups (high drop out rates from some (especially manualised) services. Some limited evidence that outcomes for minority ethnic families are BOTH less positive AND less negative than for white families - age of child makes a difference. Satisfaction rates are lower for all minority ethnic groups, largely because more remain ‘unsatisfied’ (as opposed to ‘dissatisfied) after asking for or being referred for help.

24 Children in care – placement patterns African, Caribbean, mixed heritage and especially Indigenous children over- represented in care. Asians under- represented Minority ethnic children more likely to return to parents than white children More likely to be in kin placements - but evidence not entirely clear. African-Caribbean children and disabled South Asian children more likely to use care as short term family support/ respite care services

25 Ethnicity and over-representation % of indigenous children in population aged 0-17 years % of indigenous children in out-of- home care Disproporti onality rate Alberta Queensland NSW New Zealand Washington284 (England African- Caribbean)

26 Matching child to carers Most children (in England) are now placed in broadly matched placements (except inter-country). Those not in matched placements are likely to have two parents from different minority ethnic groups. No apparent difference in rate of positive outcomes for different ethnic groups. No difference ON AVERAGE in placement stability between matched and trans-racial placement. BUT some evidence that some are significantly harmed by trans-racial placement. Big differences between countries Black new parents more likely to encourage birth parental contact and take siblings

27 Recruiting and supporting ethnic minority foster and adoptive parents Policy-makers and social workers being clear that it is something they really want to do and why, and for which ethnic, cultural and faith groups Understand what it means to the different ethnic groups to care for ‘someone else’s child’ Enlist the help of community members and especially your ethnic minority carers, and young adults who have been in ‘matched’ and ‘non- matched’ placements

28 Placement matching ‘I wouldn’t change anything about my family. But, at the end of the day, I wouldn’t advise any black person to go to a white family. Because you miss out on all the culture and everything. But I do appreciate what they did for me. There is nothing I would change about what they did for me ‘

29 Some challenges for service providers To understand and confront the complexity of discrimination and racism (within and between ethnic groups as well as ‘white to black’). To understand more about diversity within and between ethnic groups, nationally and in each area. To find more sensitive ways of collecting ethnicity data To provide services that are seen as helpful to different cultures and to publicise them in such a way that parents and children know about them and that barriers to using them are removed. To ensure that all social workers are culturally aware and culturally competent

30 The challenge for researchers To consult with parents, children, carers and practitioners to make sure that their research is providing answers to the questions that need to be answered. To come up with research samples and research methods that have a good chance of answering the questions. To work in partnership with service users and providers and with researchers from other academic disciplines- eg ethnographers, demographers, anthropologists.

31 When to ‘aggregate’ and when to ‘disaggregate’ NOT either/or. It depends on the research question. If it is about racism or harassment resulting from skin colour or other ‘obvious’ differences such as language, religion, dress, a ‘different’ life-style - it may be appropriate to combine ethnic groups in research samples.

32 Unattributed quotes / table from Thoburn, J., Chand, A. &Procter, J. (2005) Child Welfare Services for Minority Ethnic Families: The Research Reviewed. JKP Thoburn, J., Norford, L. and Rashid, S (2000) Permanent Family Placement for Children of Minority Ethnic Origin JKP Brandon, M., Thoburn, J., Lewis, A., Way, A. (1999) Safeguarding Children with the Children Act TSO Thoburn, J. (2010) ‘Achieving safety, stability and belonging for children in out-of-home care. The search for ‘what works’ across national boundaries’ International Journal of Child and Family Welfare Vol 12, Number 1-2 pp 34-

33 Other references drawn on Armstrong, S. and Slaytor, P. (2001) The colour of difference: Journeys in transracial adoption. The Federation Press Connolly, M., Crichton-Hill, Y. & Ward, T. (2006) Culture and Child Protection. Jessica Kingsley Ferrari, A.M. (2002) ‘The impact of culture upon child rearing practices and definitions of maltreatment. Child Abuse & Neglect. 26, Kohli, R. (2007) Social work with unaccompanied asylum seeking children. Palgrave Korbin, J.E. (2002) ‘Culture and child maltreatment: cultural competence and beyond’ Child Abuse and Neglect 26, Kriz, K. & Skivenes, M. (2010) ‘Knowing our Society’ and ‘Fighting Against Prejudices’ Brit. J. of Social Work 40: O’Hagan, K (2001) Cultural competence in the caring professions. Jessica Kingsley Okitikpi, T. (ed) (2005)Working with children of mixed parentage. Russell House Wade, J., Sirriyeh, A, Kohli, R. Simmonds,J. (2011) Foster care for unaccompanied asylum seeking children. BAFF


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