Many of you will have been asked by us over the last few weeks to share information about and encourage Black, Asian and minority ethnic families you work with to take part in the Speak Out survey.
The Race Equality Foundation is working in partnership with the Early Intervention Foundation and Action for Children, and we want families to share their experience of family support. The hope is that this information will be used to inform developments in support services such as Family Hubs and the expansion of the Supporting Families programme.
Our work tells us that the experience of Black, Asian and minority ethnic families is often not positive and the evidence is clear that inequalities exist with poorer outcomes for many groups. So whether we are talking about the disproportionately high school exclusion rate for Black boys, the number of mixed ethnicity children being looked after or on child protection plans, or the lack of Asian mothers accessing community mental health provision, we are clear that there are disparities in experiences and potential unmet needs that require action.
For members of our team that work with families through the Strengthening Families, Strengthening Communities (SFSC) parenting programme, the anecdotal evidence that highlights the impact of racism, the operation of stereotypes, issues with access and appropriate services, poor practice and the impact of limited funding on universal open access services is strong. It is something we hope this study will capture.
We regularly work with parents who are being referred to SFSC at crisis point; for example, a child is being removed from the home or is gang-involved; a parent is experiencing mental ill health and is at the end of their tether; there is family breakdown and relationships are under extreme stress. In the majority of cases, parents will ask why they are only now being offered parenting support, and frequently on our evaluation forms we will see the words “I wish I had been offered this sooner”.
There is often a sense from parents that this is too little too late, that doors have been shut in faces when requests were made for support, or that they had never been told that a service like this existed. Added to this is a resentment that once the family experiences statutory involvement, it is to punish and judge rather than to help.
And then there are the parents, most often from a Black, Asian or minority ethnic community, who have done everything they can to avoid contact with a statutory agency. This is because they may be anxious about stigma and judgement, having heard the stories (or seen them at close hand) that a social worker might well lead to having your child removed. They eventually take up parenting support when they see that we are offering open access programmes that anyone can come to (often after an introduction from a trusted friend or community member) and a realisation that we are independent and not part of a statutory agency.
In group discussions, as trust builds over weeks of meeting together, with an understanding that confidentiality is offered, and a sense that the space is ‘safe’, the stories come out from parents and carers. The promises that were made and not kept by workers who were allocated and then left, providing no continuity of care, leaving families having to repeat themselves multiple times to explain their situation. Or the experience when interpreters were not provided and children ended up having to act as go-betweens. The meetings that kept getting arranged at times that suited the agency but not the family. The judgments about family life, the assumptions and stereotypes that are applied, making parents feel they have not been seen or heard and their child in need is simply seen as difficult, angry and disruptive.
Whilst many of those working in the family support space are clearly doing their best to support families, sometimes the wraparound care for those we are working with is woefully inadequate. Often, the person who has made the referral is no longer in post, or the case has been closed (with the parenting programme seen as an exit strategy) with no key worker to liaise with to ensure further support for a parent who desperately needs it. When a parent has been identified as in need of counselling or therapy and is signposted to a service, they can be waiting months to be contacted. Or when a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) is needed urgently for a young person after a parent discloses self-harm, it is often impossible to get this arranged.
It is extremely frustrating both for a parent who has shared information, needs and wants help and for the facilitators who know their support is time-limited and can only go so far.
It is at this point that the support of voluntary community and faith organisations for families is crucial. Whether it is the counselling services offered by London Muslim Centre, support to families experiencing child protection proceedings given by Family Rights Group, the food bank at South London Refugee Association or a parenting programme offered by so many VCSE groups delivering SFSC – the work of this sector is really important in supporting families who feel let down by, or nervous of, statutory agencies.
Whilst these organisations are, more often than not, under-resourced and over-extended, they are a vital piece of the family support puzzle. We hope that parents and children who utilise these also use the Speak Out survey to highlight some of those often ignored services that provide family support to Black, Asian and minority ethnic families.
Please read the information on the Speak Out project via the link below and share the survey link widely.
Find out more about Speak Out
Complete the survey