Melanie Phillips, a social worker, writer and trainer passed away on May 6th 2023. Melanie was one of the cadre of Black, Asian and minority ethnic people who trained as social workers in the early 1980’s and joined the battle to protect Black and Asian children, and improve support to their families. Whilst pioneers such as John Small and Shama Ahmed opened doors, Melanie was driven by the shocking ineptitude that contributed to deaths of Black children like Jasmine Beckford and Tyra Henry. In her early days as a ‘generic social worker’ in Walthamstow, and then as a senior practitioner in Newham, she fought to implement practice that challenged the prevailing racist stereotypes that informed investigations and assessments.
Melanie captured in her writing the persistence of the view that Caribbean mothers were aggressive and neglectful, and that Asian mothers were passive and unable to protect their children. Melanie noted that when the differing experience of Black and Asian families was discussed with colleagues and managers, it almost always led to a focus on culture as an explanation, with a reluctance to acknowledge or accept that racism played any part.
Melanie’s reflective approach and her clear thinking of how social work practice needed to change to ensure Black and Asian children would be protected better, saw her move in to training, firstly at Hackney and then as a training manager for Haringey. She then carved out a career in implementing best practice, contributing to various local and national initiatives, for example she was part of the social work improvement team in Rotherham that followed the 2013 Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation.
I worked with Melanie a number of times over that last 30 years, including recently on a project for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. It was a source of some amusement to Melanie that I once had to assure an interviewer that the person we were working with was not ‘that Melanie Phillips’. But perhaps it was her commitment to the cause that sustained her and those who worked with her, that will be remembered by all.
Melanie’s untimely death at the age of 64 has robbed her beloved children Nila and Rohan of a much loved mother, and us all of a singularly insightful social worker who really did make a difference. Melanie is also survived by her mother Delyse, her brother Tim and her partner Stuart.
Jabeer Butt, CEO, Race Equality Foundation