‘Cultural expert role is harming ethnic minority staff and clients’

Institutional racism and the stereotyping of ethnic minority
social workers as cultural experts could have been a factor in the
death of Victoria Climbié, the director of anti-racism body
the REU has said.

Ratna Dutt said institutional racism in social services
departments caused staff from ethnic minorities to be treated as
experts on black and Asian clients – something that put them under
tremendous pressure.

“Often this is the only time black workers have status in their
departments because they can share information about culture,” Dutt
said. “But this is flawed because it is a diminished vision of
culture where it becomes tick-box stuff.”

She was speaking at a conference on race and child protection in
London last week.

Dutt said expecting social workers to be cultural experts did a
“great disservice” to clients but also deprived the workers
themselves of the chance to develop because their views went
unchallenged. Mistakes made by the black social worker Lisa
Arthurworrey, who was allocated Victoria’s case, may have
been a consequence of cultural ignorance.

During Lord Laming’s inquiry, Arthurworrey said she was
wrong to assume that Victoria stood to attention because of what
the social worker said was a sign of the “respect that was found in
African-Caribbean families”. Victoria was from west Africa and her
behaviour in the presence of her aunt Marie Thérèse Kouao
was an expression of fear, not respect.

Dutt added that there were other examples of the failure to deal
with race issues in Victoria’s case: such as Haringey
Council’s inability to address the problems with
Arthurworrey’s manager, Carole Baptiste, who was having a
mental breakdown.

She said Victoria’s case would have been treated
differently had she not been black.

She also said that there was plenty of evidence that racism
played a part in relation to outcomes for children, such as in the
over-representation of ethnic minority children on the child
protection register. But although she said institutional racism
could be detected in outcomes it was difficult to identify where it

The conference was jointly organised by the REU, Bridge Child
Care Development Service, which works with families, and Haringey
Area Child Protection Committee.

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