Culture of negativity

services have failed to meet the mental health needs of black communities,
writes Carol Jenkin.

past and present experience of social services is negative, both as a member of
the black community coming into contact with their services, and as a person
trying to help them meet my community’s mental health and service needs.

In the past as a young mum I was threatened
by a social worker with having my baby taken from me, without the facts being
investigated. Having post-natal depression didn’t help, and I feel this was a
catalyst that helped to push me into a more depressed state.

After a long, often stressful educational
process, my obsession for knowledge took me, unwittingly, deeper into the
mental health arena, not just my mental health but that of other people. I have
had the misfortune to be exposed to social services on all levels, not just in
my native city of Bradford, but also in other areas of the country, where their
oppressive, self-opinionated practices divide and conquer many black projects,
communities and individuals alike. They irresponsibly force inappropriate
services onto already marginalised people who need accessible, approachable and
culturally appropriate services.

In 1994 I founded a group in Bradford called
"Buddies", where attempts to engage and work with social services
have been futile. We were met with a stream of empty promises, such as offers
of workers, departmental help and time that never materialised. I have also had
to face discriminatory events and comments from social services managers. After
eight years my group still stands outside of the mental health services
provided in Bradford, even though I am recognised on many national platforms.

A growing number of the black women I have
been in contact with have been influenced into giving up their children without
knowing that there is no possibility of ever getting them back (regardless of
improvement in their circumstances). Even if they attempt legal intervention,
they will not be a family again. This then fosters another generation of
individuals who live outside the normal parameters of black family life.

As a mother my concern is for those children
who are sent into a system that fails to recognise any of their differing
cultural needs. So is it any wonder that Britain’s black children are excluded
from schools in higher than average numbers, as they go down the road towards
institutionalisation in the prisons and psychiatric secure units, which sing
from the same alienating hymnbook?

There are tokenistic attempts being made by
social services to meet the needs of black communities. This is done by the
employment of black staff as an add-on to services, then aiming them at
communities unsupported, under-resourced and unmanaged. These individuals are
then held responsible for the consequences of their failings.

Despite the usual cry to the media of
"we must put in place systems that will ensure a case like this will never
happen again", how often do we see and hear the same mistakes being

Carol Jenkin is a mental health service user
and founder of Buddies.

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