literature review on children in care who have been put into transracial placements

Academic writing on race, identity and child placements have contributed little to debates surrounding trans-racial placements. The history of this debate – still reverberating, has been explored at length throughout this research project. The purpose of this research is to provide a critical account of the available literature on children in care who have been put into transracial placements. A majority of the secondary research is focused on black children in placements with white foster carers. Followers of transracial fostering believe that children fare better ‘psychologically, emotionally and physically’ when they are placed in a different racial setting. Opponents believe that children should be brought up by foster carers of the same race in order for the child to obtain a ‘positive sense of racial identity’ (Williams, M. 1998).
This project also contributes to the debate about the contented nature of ‘black identity’ and the affects transracial placements has on forming positive ‘black identities’. Other issues covered include: examining the legal and policy frameworks with regards to the child’s cultural and identity needs which underpin children’s services. Considerations have also been given to the role of social workers in promoting the holistic needs of looked after children in foster care, in assessing their identity and cultural needs, as well as the implications and ethical dilemmas for social work practice.
The research paints no clear picture as to whether transracial placements are detrimental to children’s adjustment and overall well-being; however, arguments against transracial placements dominate the discussion. No clear arguments highlight transracial placements as being positive however a pragmatic approach has been applied by considering funding and resource limitations. As a result this research provides recommendations on transracial fostering placements within current social work practice.
Introduction
‘Racial matching’ in fostering placements has sparked off one of the most heated debates in child care policy. In 1979 the Commission for Racial Equality highlighted an error in the British care system. ‘Basic cultural needs’ of black children in care were not being met. Upon reflection it became clear that it was due to an absence in the amount of knowledge and ‘eurocentric attitudes’ which ultimately led to a deficit in ‘coherent planning and culturally sensitive services’ (Barn, R. 2001). What remains a poignant reality is for some young black and ethnic minority children to feel like they have been ‘dropped in a white sea’. (Voice for the Child in Care. 2004) In the past – concerns have been raised by children in the care system of feeling a ‘sense of isolation, alienation and that the system lacks in understanding and providing a culturally insensitive provision’ (Black and in Care, 1992)
This research begins with key definitions. This will aid the reader in understanding the key concepts behind which the research evolves. As the research opens to discuss trans-racial fostering, it is key to start by looking at the diversity of the ‘looked after’ population’. The statistics provide the reader with a framework of understanding the racial make-up of children in care within the UK and will aid some understanding for the following chapters.
The next chapter covers the history and the emergence of the ‘racial matching’ policy in foster care. It discusses fostering services method to placement matching for Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) children. The assessment process, key planning and decision making stages, values underpinning the policy along with support services are examined.
Integration and the issue of black identity in transracial placements have been a key theme. Dean (1993) alongside other writers highlight the need for substitute parents to encourage the child to develop a positive black identity. Assisting with the development of a black identity as well as maintaining ties with the black community are factors which authorities should take into consideration when meeting the child’s needs. (Dean, C. 1993). Therefore the research presents findings from studies carried out exploring the racial identity development of a small sample of young adults who were trans-racially placed. Arguments for and against trans-racial placements are then considered in depth taking into consideration how foster carers need to understand and negotiate diverse ethnic identities.
Using these findings, a number of best practice recommendations are made for social work practitioners. It is imperative that social care professionals working with children in care from BME backgrounds become aware of the discrimination which exists and the impact this has on those concerned. A misinterpretation of cultural needs can in turn lead to discrimination and oppression. Therefore the research touches up Neil Thompson’s (1997) PCS model – a theory which recognises oppression and discrimination from a Personal, Cultural and Structural perspective. (Thompson, N. 1997) Discussions on how practitioners working in the Fostering and Looked after Children Team need to have a bi-focal vision which will permit them to recognise the different experiences of service users and also work towards creating a structure that will tackle racism both individually and collectively, in changing policies and practices at the personal, organisational and societal levels.
Within existing research there are a number of unanswered questions regarding attachment in transracial placements. The research considers a small scale study on the attachment outcomes for children in care and suggests that those children in transracial placements experience ‘signs of psychological problems’. Having secure attachments and relationships are key for children in care, therefore when assessing foster placements a discussion will take place on how social workers should factor in the child’s ability to foster the development of a positive racial identity.
The next chapter very briefly explores how transracial placements have conventionally been a ‘one-way traffic’ of black children to white carers. Very few researchers have taken notice of this imbalance of white children being placed with black foster carers. Therefore Divine (1983) highlights an contentious issue which needs further exploration within authorities fostering teams. (Divine, D. 1983)
The above chapters have provided evidence for local authorities to enforce a legal obligation to secure a sufficient and diverse provision of quality placements in their local area’. (Department for Education and Skills, 2007). Recommendations are then made on links with family and community members in-order for local authorities to meet the cultural and identity needs of black children in care. The GSCC code of practice provides clear guidelines for good professional practice; hence the final chapters offer information on the implications of social care practitioners practice in terms of recruitment, training and consultation.
In conclusion the evidence gathered suggests that Looked after Children from BME backgrounds suffer more from long-standing ‘physical, emotional and psychological harm’ in comparison to those who are in interracial placements. However a strong argument which has heated up the debate is that without foster carers who provide a transracial placement children would either be sent to residential placements or have no placement. What has been established is that interracial placements although ideal, if unavailable then a transracial placements ought to be established using the recommendations provided.
Notes on language and terminology
Definitions
The terms ‘Black’ and ‘White’ are inscribed throughout the research therefore the following meanings will apply:
Black
‘Black’ belongs to a racial group who have dark skin especially of sub-saharan African origin. It is used within this research in a political sense to describe people of African, Caribbean descent (Brah , A. 1992).
White
‘White’ belongs to a racial group who have light skin coloration. It is not currently a contested term, although it does not describe actual skin colour any more than does ‘black’.
It is not the intention of the research to exclude or minimise the experiences of any group, nor to deny that identities are plural and fluid.
Chapter 1
1.1 Children in Care
‘Looked after Children’ or ‘Children in Care’ – both are used interchangeably in literature, whether that be in the Government White Paper or authorities procedures. In principle the term ‘Children in Care’ is used for those children subject to a care/interim care order under Section 31 of the Children’s Act 1989 (Great Britain, Children’s Act 1989 s31). The term ‘looked after’ under Section 22 of the CA 1989 refers to those children in the care of the local authority (LA) under a care order or who have been provided with accommodation. (Brayne. H & Carr, H, 2005). A child is often categorised as ‘looked after’ by an LA (local authority) when they fall into the following criteria. The child is:
Accommodated by the LA at the request of a person with parental responsibility, or because they are lost or abandoned, or because there is no person with responsibility for them (Great Britain, Children’s Act 1989 s20).
Placed in the care of the LA by a court Interim Care Order or Full Care Order. (Great Britain, Children’s Act 1989 Part IV).
Subject to emergency orders to secure their immediate protection, Emergency Protection Orders or Police Orders(Great Britain, Children’s Act 1989, Part V).
Remanded by a court to the care of the LA (Great Britain: Children & Young Persons Act 1969, s23)
1.2 Ethnic population of Children in CareAs the research project opens to discuss trans-racial fostering, it is key to begin by looking at the diversity of the ‘looked after’ population. This is highlighted in the Green Paper, Care matters which provides statistical information on ethnicity alongside other basic information.
The statistics provided include information on the number of children who started to be looked after in England during the year ending 31 March 2010. All figures are based on data from the SSDA 903 return collected from all local authorities.[1] Appendix 1 includes information on the number of looked after children, the reason a child is looked after, their legal status and their placement type.
From 31st March 2010 over 64, 400 children were looked after, an increase of 6% from 2009 and an increase of 7% since 2006. 73 per cent of children who were looked after in March 2010 were in a foster placement. As demonstrated in Table 1 (Appendix 1) the different ethnic groups are arranged separately. The largest grouping after the white children comprises the 3% of ‘other mixed background’ – a very diverse census category that is over-represented amongst children looked after to a greater extent than any of the main ethnic groups. For the attention of this research 660 children from Black or Black British backgrounds were in care in 2006. This has escalated to 850 in 2010. (Table C4 – Appendix 1)
For those children who started to be looked after during the year ending 31 March 2010, in comparison to 2009 all age groups showed an increase. Between 2009 and 2010 the number of children starting to be looked after ranging from ages 10 to 15 has continued steadily. Figure 2 below demonstrates the proportions of children who started to be looked after, for each age group, during the year ending 31 March.
According to the most recent statistics supporters of the opposition to trans-racial placements are alarmed by the ‘disproportionate number of black people in care’ (Dean, C. 1993). The statistics above assist in providing the reader with a framework of understanding the racial make-up of Looked after Children within the UK and aid some of the understanding within the following chapters.
Chapter 2
2.1 What are Transracial placements?
Transracial or transcultural placements relate to the ‘placement of a child of one racial group and/or culture with carers, foster carers or adoptive parents of a different racial group and/or culture’ (Hudson,M 2006). For the purposes of this research ‘trans-cultural’ is taken to also include differences such as religion, language, and sexuality.
Taking a step back into history it appears that trans-racial fostering began to be practiced more widely after World War II. Children from war torn countries without families were taken in by residents within Great Britain. (Baden, A. L, 2001) Those children, who were orphaned, abandoned or their birth families were unable to take on the responsibility for care during the nineteenth and early twentieth century were placed in ‘large residential institutions’. Throughout the Second World War these children were placed with ‘substitute carers’. (Colton, et al 2007).
According to the Department of Health (1998a) history documents that children have in the past been ‘looked after’ or ‘in care’ and have been placed in ‘institutions, orphanages, foster homes, approved schools and borstals’ (Department of Health, 1998a). With an influx of racial ethnic minority children within Britain unaccompanied by their parents, a trend began for domestic fostering agencies to place ethnic minority children with white families. The concern was raised in the early 70’s about the number of Black African children who were placed with White families by the National Association for Black Social Workers (NABSW). A statement was released: ‘Preserving African American Families’ which rebuked the practice of trans-racial fostering in 1972. The issuing of the statement sparked interest in the affects that trans-racial fostering had on children in care and created an interest for research to be conducted within this area.
2.2 Foster care arrangements
The different types of foster care arrangements include: emergency, short-term, respite care, long-term placements, kinship, remand, private, in-house foster care provision, independent fostering agency provision and multi-dimensional treatment foster care. (British Association for Adoption and Fostering, 2007)
Special attention in this research will be given to ‘long term fostering placements’. Those children who are in long term placements are those who are either not adopted or not placed with extended families and subsequently placed on a permanent basis. Therefore high on the government agenda is ‘identifying permanency in placement for children when they cannot return to their birth families. (Sinclair, I. 2005)
When a child is placed with a family on a long term fostering basis it is expected that the child will mature remaining in foster care. Once he/she reaches a level of independence it is then anticipated that he/she will move on when ready. One of the key aims of long term placements is for the foster carers to ‘provide care for the child throughout their childhood….provide a safe and stable environment to enable him/her to grow both physically and emotionally and to reach their full potential’. (Department of Health, 1998a).
2.3 Ethnic matching in placements
‘Racial matching’ in fostering placements has sparked off one of the most heated debates in child care policy. This chapter concerns itself with history and the emergence of ‘racial matching’ policy in foster care. It discusses the authorities Fostering Teams policies and process in placing Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) children in foster care. The assessment process, key planning and decision making stages, values underpinning the policy along with support services are examined. It begins by assessing the Local Authorities responsibility in meeting the correct placements needs of BME children.
The Children’s Act 1989 and accompanying guidance provide for a well considered framework for the placement of children. Under certain legislation, local authorities, when deliberating on how a decision is made are required to:
Promote and safeguard the child’s welfare;
Consider the wishes and feelings of the child;
Consider the wishes and feelings of the parents;
Consider the child’s ‘religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background’; (Great Britain, The Children’s Act 1989)
The Children’s Act (1989) was the first piece of legislation that specifically required local authorities to consider a child’s ‘religion, race, culture and language’ when making a decision with regards to where the child should be placed (Great Britain, The Children’s Act 1989 s.22). The Department of Health Guidance for Looked after Children 1998 (20) highlights that: ‘placement drift should be avoided’. (Department of Health, 1998a)
The quality of services provided by eight social services departments along with the extent to which they are consulted with BME groups in service planning and decision making were scrutinised. In July 2000 the Department of Health published its report on the findings for the above. (Department of Health, 2000a)
A number of issues were drawn to attention within the report. However for the purpose of this research, certain topics which relate to the research have been extracted. An overall summary of the report inferred that the ‘needs of Black and Minority Ethnic communities must be met in a more consistent and holistic manner. (Department of Health, 2000a) Succeeding this is Standard 7.2 of the National Minimum Standard for Fostering Services which states that “each child should have access to foster care services which recognise and address her/his needs in terms of gender, religion, ethnic origin, language, culture, disability and sexuality. (Department of Health, 2000a)
Each foster carer is assigned to a supervising social worker. The supervising social workers from the Fostering Service attempt to work towards the requirements of the National Minimum Standards regarding trans-racial placements. The most ‘desirable outcome’ for the Fostering Service would be that a foster carer is found from the same ‘race, ethnicity and religion’. The optimum placement is decided subsequent to an individual assessment of the child. The choices which social workers are faced with do not include just ethnic matching, there are a number of factors which need to be taken into consideration. Duties in primary legislation are further supplemented by further responsibilities in regulations in placement matching (Department of Health 2000a).
Guidelines to ‘balance the different needs’ have been made available for supervising social workers. These guidelines stipulate that any factor for example ethnic matching should not be defined with such significance that it supersedes the duty to consider together all factors bearing on the welfare of the child as an individual. (The Children’s Act 1989, Guidance and Regulations).
Due to the change in family and social structures – this makes matching an even more complex process. The role of the supervising social worker whilst completing the assessment with potential foster carers is to explore how both they and others within the household would manage issues of ‘racial challenge, identity issues and/or rejection by the young person of their black identity, ethnic heritage or religious affiliation’. (The Children’s Act 1989, Guidance and Regulations) The impact on extended family, family friends as well as siblings needs to be identified during this assessment process. Often within assessments claims to living in a ‘racially diverse area’ are often used to justify trans-racial placements, however as will be discussed later in this research, racial challenges can also be faced by BME children in racially mixed areas. The foster carer should have a level of awareness of the above issues and these should be recorded during the matching process. It is also imperative for the supervising social workers to recognise that from physical appearance the child’s heritage may not be apparent.
Once a placement has been identified for the child, a referral form is completed which outlines the child’s needs including health, education and other relevant information. The form should also include the child’s ethnicity and culture. Following consultation with a senior manager within the Fostering Team, matching a child’s cultural and ethnic needs will be taken into consideration. Best practice guides staff that ‘no trans-racial, cultural or religion placement should be made, (The Children’s Act 1989, Guidance and Regulations) however in some circumstances it may be that a trans-racial placement may be the best option accessible for the child. The matching process would also need to deliberate on the issue of the child’s needs being different depending on their ethnicity and that of the prospective carer. (The Children’s Act 1989, Guidance and Regulations)
Cataloging every situation when a trans-racial placement can occur is complex, however the following are a few examples:
Where a Parent expresses a wish for their child to be placed (particularly if S.20 CA 1989) with an identified carer, and where an established relationship exists between the child and the proposed carer.
Where a child needs to remain part of a sibling group.
A same day placement when there is no other alternative. This does not negate the Council’s duty to identify a more suitable the next working day when it is clear that the child will not leave their initial Carer within 72 hours.
Religious preference – particularly where expressed by the parent and /or where religion is intrinsically linked to the ethnic identity can take priority over a same race placement.
Where a child has been in a trans-racial/cultural/religion placement for a long time and permanence with the current carers is being considered.
Friends and family care.
Grounds for making a trans-racial placement decision are key in the proposal. Ongoing records of the child should include the reason why decisions were made. Under the Looked after Children procedure once a child has been placed review meetings are held by an Independent Reviewing Officer. The review meetings discuss the child’s welfare and also take into account whether the child’s racial and cultural needs are being met. This is related to all foster placements including trans-racial placements. The child’s future within the placement is also considered and whether a more culturally appropriate placement needs to be sought is reviewed. However this decision is not based on the child’s racial and cultural needs alone. Other factors need to be taken into consideration including the length of the placement and the child’s level of attachment to the foster-carer.
Chapter 3
3.1 Literature Review
The controversial debate surrounding trans-racial placements has led to many social workers undergoing the complex task of meeting the diverse needs of BME children. (Thomas, N 2005). The Children Act 1989 supports same race placements within foster care settings. However the simple ‘tick box’ exercise of the Children Act 1989 s22 is not enough in dealing with the children’s diverse needs. Statistics as noted above infer that a number of children from BME communities are fostered into different cultures. Some research suggests that trans-racial placements do not have harmful outcomes and some research suggests otherwise (Tizard, B. & Phoenix, A. 1989).
Various arguments have been presented for and against trans-racial placements. Those supporting trans-racial fostering feel that ‘children fare better psychologically, emotionally and physically when they are placed in a different racial setting’. (Williams, M., 1998). The argument on the opposing side suggests that children ‘should be brought up by parents of the same race in order for the child to obtain a positive sense of racial identity’. (Williams, M., 1998).
A number of studies closely speculated ‘the racial identity of trans-racial fostering’ in-order to verify the effects that trans-racial fostering has. (Bagley, C 1993) The chapter begins by attempting to conceptualise the terms race, ethnicity, culture and racial identity.
Ethnicity
The term ‘ethnic’ has over the years altered its definition. It has been often defined as individuals who ‘…share the same cultural or biological characteristics’. Bhavnani (2005) defined ethnicity as ‘a process of group identification, a sense of cultural and historical identity based on belonging by birth to a distinctive cultural group’ (Bhavnani,R et al, 2005).
Culture
Bhavnani, (2005) defines culture as ‘sharing of customs, beliefs and traditions with cultural practices passed on from one generation to another through family and community networks’. (Bhavnani,R et al 2005).
Race
The concept of ‘race’ has existed throughout history; however what the term represents, has, like other concepts modified in relation to its context. Historical literature would perceive ‘race’ to ‘signify people that make up families or national groups, cultures, civilisations in the modern world as well as religions’. (Zack, N 1998). This was later altered and the concept of ‘race’ within the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century became known to mean ‘biological differences’ (Zack, N 1998). Christie (1998) states that the interest in the concept of ‘race’ and the attempt to define racial categories formed part of the scientific revolution (C. J. Christie, 1998) Subsequent to this ‘race’ was then defined as ‘a distinct biological group of human beings who were not all members of the same family but who shared inherited physical and cultural traits that were different from those shared within other races’ (Zack, N 1998).
3.2 Racial Identity
Studies of racial identity are of fundamental importance to this research. A broad range of research has been carried out on the concept of racial identity. Racial group identity is often defined as ‘ones self-perception and sense of belonging to a particular group’. It not only includes an individual’s perception of oneself but also how individuals make a distinction between themselves and other ethnic groups. It also explored the level to which an individual has reached in obtaining behaviours which are known to be identifiable to a specific racial group. (McRoy R, G, 1990a).
During a child’s early development their racial identity development entails two key stages. According to McRoy and Freeman (1986) during the first stage, at a conceptual level, the child has the ability to recognise a difference between the races. McRoy, R. and Freeman, E. 1986). Subsequent to this during the second stage children are able to assess their own membership to a racial group. At the age of three children have the ability to tell apart ‘hair texture and skin colour’ and are able to develop beliefs and values about racial groups – these are acquired from peers. (McRoy R, G, 1990a).
The primary care-giver in this case – the foster carer plays an essential role in assisting the child to deal with the environment. However the caregiver of a black child has a different role as the child needs to be somewhat prepared for an environment which may be restrictive and often hostile. (Bowman, P, and C. Howard. 1985)
From ages three and seven years a child has the ability to detect racial differences and labels which are linked with certain groups. Children are also able to monitor the notion of black versus white in society. However attitudes towards certain racial groups depend heavily on the primary care giver. Children in trans-racial placements often obtain limited information about race which may result in them feeling that it is not fitting to communicate feelings about race. (McRoy R G, 1990b)
Furthermore at the age of seven the child has the ability to understand ‘race permanence’. (Aboud, F, E & D.N Rumble, 1987). It is clear from the above that when rearing a black child what is essential for any foster carer is the issue of ‘acknowledgement, acceptance and appreciation of racial characteristics’. Semaj, L. T (1985) suggests that black parents or in this case foster carers should find ways which confirm the work of black culture and attempt to prevent identity confusion amongst black children. (Semaj, L. T. 1985).
McRoy and Zurcher (1983) within their study of transracial placements claimed that the ‘formation of a positive and unambiguos racial identity may be particularly problematic for black children in white famililes. (McRoy, R., and Zurcher, L. 1983) Dean (1993) goes on to discuss how trans-racial placements can pose a threat to the ‘development of a healthy identity in black children’ (Dean, C. 1993).
A majority of the arguments against trans-racial placements have been troubled with the rights of black people along with black identity. As Dean (1993) suggests that once it has been recognised that black children have diverse needs which hold major importance then it also needs to be accepted that it is desirable for black children to ‘maintain a distinct and separate cultural identity’ (Dean, C. 1993). Dean (1993) promotes the needs for children in care to have a strong sense of identity. According to him having a ‘positive self image’ is essential to mental health. (Dean, C 1993).
Having discussed the need for a healthy black identity and how significant ‘positive black images’ along with role models can aid this development – it has been stressed that trans-racial placements can never fulfil this fundamental need (Dean, C. 1993). Therefore suggestions have been made by researchers that black foster carers would be in the best positions to ‘develop a sense of pride to achieve a positive racial identity and a well integrated personality’ (Arnold et al, 1989, p 424).
Dean (1993) alongside other writers highlight the need for substitute parents to encourage the child to develop a positive black identity. Catering for the ‘black’ child’s needs in assisting with the development of a black identity as well as maintaining ties with the black community are factors which local authorities should take into consideration (Dean, C. 1993). Black children in particular have been noted to ‘struggle to gain a positive sense of racial identity’ (Cross 1971 cited by DoH 2000a). A ‘model of identity’ is presented by Cross (1971) for social workers and other child care professionals to ‘make the correlation between the child’s own perception and their emotional development’ (Cross 1971 cited by DoH 2000a).
In-order to develop a positive racial identity and good self esteem, children should be placed with a culturally matched family. (Caesar, G., Parchment, M., and Berridge, D. 1994). It is believed that for children in care, the foster carer is a ‘primary role model’ and children in a long term placement will identify themselves as being like their foster carers. A testimony from an adult who had been brought up in care in a number of ‘trans-racial’ placements stated:“I was always taught in growing up that Black was bad and that because I spoke nicely White people would accept me as one of them – it doesn’t matter about my skin colour, that doesn’t matter, blot that out” (Children’s Legal Centre, 1985). What is described above is a child’s difficulty in integrating his color into a positive racial identity.
The Clarke Doll Experiment (1939) conducted by Dr Kenneth Clarke involved asking children from a black background to select between either a white or black doll. Both dolls were identical and had nothing but skin colour as the distinction, however most of the children felt that the white doll was ‘nicer’. A number of questions were also posed to the children, one of them being “give me the doll which most looks like you”. In past tests and one conducted in the 1950’s – 44% of the children said the white doll looked like them. Johnson et al (1987) used the above mentioned Clarke Doll approach to carry out a longitudinal study on looked after children in trans-racial placements. His findings inferred that black children who were in trans-racial placements identified with the doll as having a race similar to their own. They had a better awareness of their race and ‘greater preference’ towards the doll than did interracially fostered childr

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