Sukhwinder Singh assesses research into how people from ethnic minorities can receive the care services to which they are entitled
● While the force and expression of racism may be changing, evidence continues to point to sustained and embedded racial inequalities in communities and in service provision.
● Gypsy and traveller communities are largely absent from the policy and social work practice agenda.
● A sense of cultural belonging and racial “connectedness” leads to better outcomes for looked-after children.
● The use and quality of interpreters can be problematic.
Evidencing Racial Inequality
● How Fair is Britain? The First Triennial Review (Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2010).
This 750-page review offers a comprehensive and authoritative analysis of inequality in Britain, linked to the Equality Act 2010.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission provides evidence of enduring and persistent racial inequalities. It finds that more than half of adults in Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities live in poverty and are more likely to have physical and mental health problems. Due to problems with communicating with professionals, a lack of awareness about service provision and a lack of confidence in mainstream services, these groups are less likely to access care and support.
The commission argues that a shared understanding of these complex issues, based on “objective evidence rather than conjecture or assumption, is central to developing a lasting ‘consensus for action'”.
Challenging the invisibility of Gypsy and traveller communities
● Inequalities Experienced by Gypsy and Traveller Communities: A Review. Equality and Human Rights Commission (Cemlyn, Greenfields, Burnett, Matthews, and Whitwell; 2009).
Gypsy and traveller communities experience wide-ranging socio-economic and health inequalities which public policy and professionals have neglected.
Chapter five focuses on social work and suggests that interventions focus disproportionately on controlling rather than humanitarian and emancipatory aspects of practice. It identifies that these interventions serve only to heighten the degree of mistrust and suspicion between social workers and Gypsy/traveller communities.
The inclusion of the Gypsy/traveller category in the 2011 Census is a chance to develop better evidence-based public policy and culturally competent practice in meeting this marginalised community’s needs.
Promoting Racial and Cultural Identity
● Care Leavers and Social Capital: Understanding and negotiating racial and ethnic identity. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 33;5, 832 (Barn; 2010).
Important insights are offered into the social exclusion experienced by care leavers from ethnic minorities and how they draw upon an understanding of “self”. This study commendably seeks to give the respondents a voice in terms of defining their ethnic and cultural identities.
Drawing on discussions and interviews with children from six local authority social work departments, the findings suggest that “most young people of Caribbean, African and Asian background conceptualised their racial and cultural identity to be an important component of themselves”.
Within contemporary childcare social work, there is an explicit requirement in relation to due consideration being given to race, language, culture and religion (Children Act 1989 section 22(5) c). However, research suggests this may not always be evident in core assessments and statutory child care reviews.
Social workers need to be vigilant about how they address the needs of children and young people from ethnic minorities in dealing with the effects of racism in society and developing a positive appreciation of their cultural background. Practical steps for augmenting this in practice could include: affirming and discussing the impact and experience of racism, establishing links with ethnic minority community organisations and developing support packages to maintain links with the communities.
Lost in translation
● Lost in Translation: How child welfare workers in Norway and England experience language difficulties when working with minority ethnic families. British Journal of Social Work, 40 (5), pp 1353-1367 (Kriz and Skivenes; 2010).
This research makes visible the problematic and fraught nature of the encounters between social workers and families from ethnic minorities who need an interpreter.
The study is based on 53 interviews with social workers. It highlights how interpreters change the dynamics and quality of the relationship between practitioner and service user, and how the use of interpreters has implications for social workers who “lose informationtime and trust”. Given that interpretation is not verbatim, a lot of information is lost. This could compromise the appropriateness of the assessment and the services provided. The authors’ recommendations include an ethical code of practice for interpreters and better training of social workers in working with interpreters.
Sukhwinder Singh is a doctorate social work research student at the University of Sussex and a lecturer in social work at the University of Northampton
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This article is published in the 3 March 2011 edition of Community Care under the headline “Reducing inequalities in care services provision”