Ethnic trap of employment-only contracts

Yasmin Hossain on why the children’s guardian service must
include more black and Asian people.

Children’s guardians are highly experienced child care social
workers who have, until April 2001, delivered an independent and
professional service to the courts. But as a black professional, it
is my concern that the new children and family court advisory and
support service (Cafcass) and its service delivery fail to reflect
the diversity in our communities. Cafcass exists to fulfil the
functions formerly performed by the Official Solicitors Department,
the family court welfare service and the guardian ad litem service
(Galro panels).

The former two departments were notable in one respect – their
under-representation of black and Asian staff. The guardian
service, with the exception of inner London and perhaps the
Manchester panel, was similarly under-represented. Employment-only
contracts will fail to attract quality or experienced staff. To
retain and recruit experienced staff of high calibre, Cafcass needs
to be flexible by offering a contract of service.

The previous Bury, Oldham and Rochdale Galro panel was a fully
employed service. In its 17-year history it never appointed or
recruited a black guardian ad litem. Compare this with the
Manchester panel, which was wholly self-employed and served the
same care centre. The guardians in Manchester adequately reflected
the referrals that the panel received.

Readers will not need any reminders of events in the north of
England in June and July this year and the frustration and anger of
Asian youths in Oldham, Burnley and Bradford. The black and Asian
proportion in Bury, Oldham and Rochdale is about 12 per cent of the
total population.

A 200 per cent increase in the Asian and Muslim population in
Oldham is predicted in 10 years’ time. I live, work, worship and
socialise in this community and know from my 22 years’ experience
of working with children and families that the angry youth of today
will create dysfunctional families in five to 10 years’ time.

Consider the aftermath of the London riots in 1981 and the huge
increase in proceedings between 1986 and 1994 in Lambeth, Hackney,
Newham, Haringey and so on. One needs look no further than the
statistics relating to black children in care in those local
authorities. Black communities have always felt that they have been
treated “unfairly”. It is the children within these communities
that are most affected. Who can speak for them? Work with them? And
offer them a service with the knowledge and understanding of their
language, culture, religion and values?

Cafcass needs black staff. It needs trained and experienced
professionals who can assist in delivering a quality service. Those
professionals must have the knowledge, skills and expertise to
understand the culture and social values of the community they
serve. Cafcass ignores this at its peril. CC

Yasmin Hossain is a children’s guardian.

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