Research into practice

Neil Thompson looks at recent research into
the experiences of young people from ethnic minorities in the UK
and finds they are still marginalized.

Development of anti-racist practice in social
work has been given considerable emphasis in the past 15 years,
perhaps reflecting an attempt to counterbalance the relative
neglect of matters of race, culture and ethnicity in traditional
approaches to social work.

However, it would be complacent in the extreme
to argue that we have now got our collective act together when it
comes to promoting anti-racist practice. We are clearly a long way
from where we need to be, and this report only serves to emphasise
that point.

Ravinder Barn contends that young people from
ethnic minorities have largely been omitted from the mainstream
literature and that their needs – and indeed their own voice – have
a very low profile.

Barn sums up the main message of this report
very succinctly, arguing that: “Research evidence suggests that,
unless areas of risk and vulnerability are seriously addressed at
policy and practice level, minority ethnic young people at the
margins of society will become increasingly disaffected and

The need to take seriously the implications of
this report is therefore very clear. If we continue to neglect
young people as part of the developing anti-racist agenda, we run
the risk of condemning them to further discrimination and

The wide-ranging report explores issues
relating to looked-after children, education, employment and
training, homelessness, substance misuse, mental health, juvenile
justice, and racial and cultural identity. In each of these areas
we are left with concerns about how disadvantage continues to be a
significant issue but is not necessarily being addressed in
significant ways. The gaps in our treatment of these issues become
very apparent in page after page of the report.

It is ironic that, in a society which values
youth in so many ways and affords children far more protection
than, say, vulnerable adults, children and young people continue to
be devalued and marginalised in many ways. This report reflects
that irony but, for young people from ethnic minorities, there is
an extra dimension of disadvantage and discrimination to be taken
into account. What we see, then, is the interaction of values,
structures and practices of our society in relation to young people
combining and interacting with issues of language, culture,
ethnicity and race, and the various aspects of discrimination and
oppression associated with these.

Barn concludes the report by arguing that more
preventive measures need to be developed, that further research
needs to be undertaken focusing on resilience as well as risk and
vulnerability, and that we need to be evaluating the effectiveness
of policy and practice in these areas.

This is an important report and it should be
widely read by practitioners, managers, policy makers and
educators. It has identified an area of neglect in our
understanding and promotion of anti-racist practice, and we would
do well not to perpetuate that neglect.

Barn’s work has given us a good basis from
which to plan how we can and should move forward. It is to be
hoped, then, that this report will be widely read and will play a
part in a more comprehensive and more sophisticated approach to the
needs of young people from ethnic minority backgrounds.

– Ravinder Barn, Black Youth on the
Margins: A Research Review
, Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 2001,
£9.95 plus £2 p&p. A summary is available on the JRF
website at

Neil Thompson is a director of Avenue
Consulting (
) and a visiting professor at the University of Liverpool. He is
the author of Promoting Equality (1998) and
Anti-Discriminatory Practice (3rd edition, 2001), both
published by Palgrave

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