Open Forum

I have met experienced practitioners, who say they lack
confidence when assessing people from a different cultural or
social background to their own. They question their ability to
help, believing themselves to be too different, and therefore,

But this practice actually serves to maintain the stereotypes.
It is wrong to give the impression that, for example, only black
people can help other black people. In my work with black foster
carers I asked them about the impact of having only one black
social worker in the foster care team. They said that they often
missed out on the support and time offered to their white peers.
But it was not that they wanted more social workers from their own
background, just people who would listen to their difficulties and

Service users often feel marginalised and it can therefore be of
great benefit to be able to talk to someone who has been in the
same situation or who comes from a similar background. But as
professionals we have a duty to learn from the individuals and hear
their stories and work from that point.

A reliance on “sameness” puts tremendous pressure on black
professionals and it can seem as if we are supposed to know all
aspects of our culture. Service users may expect too much and this
can make our professional life very difficult.

The first step to effectively assessing others is to do an
assessment of ourselves. We need to be able to understand our own
views, biases, and feelings and recreate our style of assessing.
Without this personal, reflective knowledge we can unintentionally
discriminate against others.

Sameness can often backfire too. I have had experiences where
being black only served to upset the service user more. I have been
seen as the “token black support” and was not taken seriously in my
role. Others have seen me as the “coconut” – black on the outside
but white inside, with similar views as my white employers, simply
because I work for them.

Fay Hunkins is an independent generic social worker,
trainer and consultant.


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