Almost half of Black safeguarding professionals report lack of equal opportunity to progress at work

Perceived barriers to progression particularly high among children' social care staff, finds survey of 100 professionals

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Photo: Lightfield Studios/Fotolia

Almost half of Black safeguarding professionals (BSPs) say they lack fair and equal opportunities to progress in the workplace, with the problem particularly acute in children’s social care.

That was a key finding from a survey of 100 BSPs, which also found that almost two-thirds felt their ethnicity had resulted in barriers being imposed upon them in their career, and that 54% disagreed that they were at the point they should be in their careers.

Among the 35% respondents who worked in children’s social care, most said they lacked fair and equal opportunities and three-quarters said their ethnicity had imposed barriers on their career progression.

The online survey was carried out from July to September last year by Kijiji, a network that seeks to empower BSPs. It defines the group as practitioners who work to safeguard children or support their families to protect them, who self-identify as Black and whose total or partial ancestry come from any of the Black racial groups of the African diaspora.

Its report on the survey said that while it was important not to over-generalise from the responses of 100 professionals, the headline results chimed with anecdotal feedback from Kijiji over members the past six months, so were likely to be indicative of wider feelings among BSPs.

Low representation at senior level

It added that the findings also fitted with the low representation of Black professionals in leadership roles across organisations. Analysis published last year by the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) found that 1% of directors identified as Black African and the same proportion as Black Caribbean, despite 12% of children’s social workers in England being Black.

The report also identified challenges for BSPs about raising race-related issues within the workplace – a problem that has come under the spotlight following the killing of George Floyd. Half of respondents disagreed that they found it easy to raise racial issues within the organisation or with clients, with a third agreeing.

The survey also found that almost half of respondents (45%) said there was no active equality, diversity and inclusion strategy within their workplace.

And in the context of the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on Black people, and those from other ethnic minorities, 37% agreed that their organisation had responded well to the pandemic by providing sufficient protection for BSPs, though 31% disagreed.

Concerns with ‘BAME’ label

The report also raised concerns about the use of the term Black Asian and minority ethnic (BAME), as it risked conflating the experience of BSPs with those of other professionals from ethnic minority groups.

Laurelle Brown, a children’s services consultant who is director and co-founder of Kijiji, said: “Diverse workforces, with fair and equitable opportunities for all staff, enable decisionsand processes to protect diverse children and young people from harm to be shaped by those withdiverse identities and experiences.

“Too often, the experience and outcomes of Black safeguarding professionals is shrouded by being mislabelled as ‘BAME’; organisations and services must prioritise investment in effective strategies and action to address issues preventing Black safeguarding professionals from thriving.”

The report recommended that service leaders:

  1. Commission culturally competent independent resources to engage BSPs and to provide a ‘safe’ forum to listen and understand their experience of race equality within the workplace.
  2. Undertake workforce audits to provide evidence-based picture of workforce equality and experience of progression and opportunities for all staff.
  3. Ring-fence sustainable funding to commission and/or employ dedicated equality, diversity and inclusion’ expertise to co-develop strategies to tackle the root causes of structural and systemic barriers that result in poor workforce outcomes for BSPs.
  4. Create and maximise senior officer sponsored ring-fenced leadership opportunities for BSPs where there is evidence of racial exclusion in such roles.
  5. Invest in high quality, equitable learning and development opportunities for BSPs, for example, secured through nominated places where appropriate.
  6. In the context of Covid-19, actively identify their BSPs that may be at greater risk and work with them to understand this and explore how they can be offered additional support and protection.

21 Responses to Almost half of Black safeguarding professionals report lack of equal opportunity to progress at work

  1. JJ February 2, 2021 at 3:08 pm #

    Even now writing this makes me feel abit uneasy, as I don’t feel that the barrier against me of progressing iny career is deliberate
    On top of that there are also the class issues, which almost always ensures that those from public schools or better universities are able to access high positions within Children’s Services across the country.
    I have decided after seeing my Caucasian colleagues progressing, after being pushed for the additional training and courses offered by LA to go agency. Before doing this , I noticed that a large proportion of agency workers where black etc. Now I know why. Hopefully, things improve.

  2. Isabella Adjoa 4 February 2, 2021 at 4:15 pm #

    I think the way forward is to encourage diversity training within social care to enable white managers to understand how they work black workers.

  3. Ros/Char February 2, 2021 at 8:55 pm #

    This information has been clear to see for decades, 1% of directors are black or Asian and this is similar to that of Principal Social Workers. Structural and systemic racism remain the core issue and unless these are going to change, we will see no change. Black and Asian leaders who reach to the top have a fear of raising the issue, worried about bring stigmatised, which means there needs to be a culture shift.

    I am black, in a senior role and I actively seek out opportunities to remain eligible for promotions internally or externally, the famous line of you being good, but need more experience is common for us and the reality is we will need to continue to work harder, smarter and trusting that someone with integrity will recognise our worth and offer us that senior post.

  4. Anthea February 3, 2021 at 1:11 am #

    Yet again a half baked path forward that will at best end in frustration and at worst yetbagain letting us down. Until or unless we have fundamental social change and an economic system that doesn’t embed massive wealth differentials and poverty as its core principles, elevating a few black staff to senior positions is meaningless. I have more in common with my working class Irish, Jewish, Asian and Chienese Scouse friends and comrades than frankly I do with my privately educated middle class black manager who, try as he does to compensate for the structures in which we work, cannot rise above the expectations of the service of which he is an integral cog. In my 28 years working as a qualified social worker I have listened to, heard, experienced many grandelequent initiativez. I’ve experienced the never coming new dawn so I am not holding my breath over this one either. As an older black woman, I don’t want yet more layers of managers who by dint of their roles soon forget their radical rhetoric and become just another oppressive manager. Beleiving you are the change that makes the difference is not the same as being the revolution. All I need to feel safe, valued and working to my full potential, is a new social work which values us as agents for change not the grinding buraucracy that black managers inflict on me too. I’ve had managers of many ethnicities. What I want is a comrade not a bureaucrat that inflicts unthinking dogma on me. There are Kemi Badenoch types in social work too. My blackness isn’t validated by being managed by another black person, my experiences, my soul, my visions, my thoughts, my being is validated by others who share my values. Dr King asked that we be judged by our character, so I do.I find solace in my Scouseness first because I am defined by my city and my northern culture before some artificially constructed notion of blackness. BAME is a nonsense shorthand but I don’t accept that we replace it by a new hierarchy of the most oppressed. Show me class solidarity and I will beleive in your change. Until than it’s an insular echo chamber of the already convinced. Let’s go beyond looking for individual strengths if we want a new narrative and a more radical future achieved through solidarity and comradely endeavour. I embrace Marcus Rashford, the sterile grandstanding of Sir Lewis Hamilton means nothing to me. I celebrate the black person whose values strives to better his fellow humans rather the one who shamelessly ignores the oppression, exploitation, and murder of black people while professing Black Lives Matter. If we are serious about fundamental changes than we need to embrace action over grand rhetoric.

  5. Kiera February 3, 2021 at 2:35 pm #

    Completely agree with you Anthea, I know how much courage it takes to stand against some of these narratives.

  6. Nicola February 3, 2021 at 8:16 pm #

    The elephant in the room!! I’m not sure about the point of the survey & what does it change, that’s my cynical position. I don’t care for this survey as I don’t know what the information will achieve or change. Don’t go opening a Pandora’s box that you can’t contain!! Let sleeping dogs lie!

    Health and social care particularly children social care is supposed to be helping and caring profession. You don’t have to look further than our offices to see to find all the ‘isms’. Racism, discrimination, nepotism, favouritism, and so on? You have teams that are top-heavy with white management and all the footsoldiers are black it’s commonplace nobody says or does anything…so what. I have a long disconnected and detached myself emotionally from the whole thing. You just keep your head down and do your work and leave it at that. I consider myself to be black middle-class, so what? I know that if I had the right look I would’ve gone far in social work. Now years later what’s the point??

    • Glitterball February 4, 2021 at 11:05 am #

      Nicola, you sound so dispirited and quite rightly so. I spent a number of years in social work practice observing the well-oiled machine of racism ticking over and when I couldnt sleep at night with the mental exhaustion of trying to outwit the said machine, I quit the job I loved.

      Not a solution for the faint hearted. Racism is still alive and kicking in other agencies and professions however at least I have become more skilled at selecting which racist chopping block I want to lay my head on…if its uncomfortable, I’ll ask for a reprieve and go elsewhere!!

      Sad to read these comments – perhaps setting up private agencies to support black SWs in practice and to develop a wrap around service to empower and encourage each other might be a plan? Maybe I’m re-inventing the wheel…I doubt if it will change much. Racism is a monster that feeds on the souls of hopeless people. We’re not hopeless-just tired of the same old rhetoric.

      • Sal February 4, 2021 at 5:17 pm #

        Completely agree with you glitterball.
        I’ve left sw for a field less oppressive and have already been given the opportunity to progress.

  7. GG February 3, 2021 at 11:50 pm #

    More fool me, but I really do hope KIJIJI and others echoing this agenda make some headway. We are tired. Get the the systems dismantled, they are riddled with every ism going.

  8. Selena February 4, 2021 at 11:12 am #

    The article supports what we experience and discuss amongst ourselves as black staff but please do not undermine our struggles by claiming that 50 respondents represent us all. If we want to be taken seriously than let’s have scientifically and statistically sound research. This is no such study. By all means express an opinion but do not claim to represent us.

  9. Carrie February 4, 2021 at 10:53 pm #

    We don’t need yet more of the already tried strategies of audits, so claimed “culturally competent” advisors and the rest. I was one of those Equality Officers much championed by Labour Councils in the early 80’s. We st in on interviews, adoption panels, service meetings, training sessions and much more. Within a year of my “specialist” post I and my fellow advisors became marginalised and our roles lost any impact we may have had. When a single person gets appointed to these posts, they are inevitably marginalised. The lesson I learnt is that though racism is inflicted on us, we don’t have to look at fighting back by adding yet another layer of bureaucracy. Get together, use your professional power to stand up to racists and bullying managers, use your solidarity to strengthen your resolve, don’t expect organisations that oppress you and all workers to suddenly treat you with respect. Promotion is not the same as representation, be comrades not competitors. I find this report a bit confusing but mostly just more of the same limited demands all such reports seem to end up suggesting.

  10. Maria February 5, 2021 at 6:14 pm #

    We all know that LA’s are institutionally racist & sexist & sex & race discrimination is rife in them! Black/female SW’s are often targeted, bullied, harassed, intimidated & victimised by white/male managers & this has been going on for many years & that is why we will never progress or be promoted over our white counterparts & that is also why many excellent & highly experienced SW’s are leaving the profession as they feel demoralised, not respected & not valued!

  11. Penfold February 5, 2021 at 10:24 pm #

    At one of my appraisals I was asked by my female senior manager where I saw my career headed.
    She laughed out load when I said Chief Exec type position.
    I’m pretty sure the only reason she laughed was as a result of my being white, fat, big eared and having a very strong north eastern accent and without a degree, having only ever obtained a Diploma.
    It certainly couldn’t be because she didn’t think I was suited or skilled enough for such a position.
    I never became a chief executive so it must be true.
    I’m Spartacus and deserve a poll.

  12. Rochelle February 6, 2021 at 10:02 am #

    I can relate to some points made in this article. I’ve work in adult safeguarding for five years and stayed on the same level. No support to progress. I’ve watched new people with little experience join the team and they are given the opportunities to progress from day one. It is very demoralising. Am constantly being told its up to me to progress but how can I if am not given the opportunity to do so. In this team the deputy manager is black and I have experienced the worst type of work place bullying from this person. HR knows about this deputy manager because others have reported her but her behaviour is allowed because she does it against blacks. It’s shocking and deplorable. Social work in 2021 in a local council.

  13. Cedric February 6, 2021 at 10:41 am #

    Don’t really understand if a team is predominantly black but for the manager, why racism and discrimination is tolerated. If you are the service, use your power to challenge the bigots. After all if you withdraw your labour there is no service to run is there? We don’t always need leadership from outside. We can be our own leaders if we act collectively.

  14. Clarissa February 7, 2021 at 12:25 am #

    Stop obsessing about individual advancement. One black persons getting promotion does nothing to combat racism. Why are you all out to get ahead of your fellow workers rather than sticking with each other to fight for real change. No black Manager, Commissioner, Lead, ‘Expert’ and any other fancy but pointless titles that have ruled over me has made a difference to my experiences of trying to be useful with ever diminishing resources. Personally, rather than satisfy my ego with a useless grand title, I remain committed to offering support and hopefully empowering vulnerable people. Remember people using your services? Do you all good to put them before your ambitions. Trust me, it makes the soul purer and the conscience clear. You did become social workers to help others didn’t you?

  15. Buki February 9, 2021 at 8:20 am #

    Social work is not institutionally racist. UK is not institutionally racist. In fact there are myriad legislations that are specifically enacted against discrimination. The reason we find it hard to combat racism and discrimination in our profession and in society is precisely because when we show we have experienced racism our oppressors can point to legislation to ‘prove’ they are not ‘allowed’ to discriminate. Stop playing into their hands by referencing on their grounds. Social work has its cohort of racists, UK has its hardcore bigots. We can only fight them through our own strengths and our own strategies, challenge what is done to us through collective action. Macpherson report set back anti-racist fights by diverting our energies down rabbit holes, stop validating it.

  16. Andy February 10, 2021 at 8:52 am #

    Off subject here but I would welcome our black organisations and leaders for once looking outside of the usual carousal. Please put your energies in helping our communities. Where are the black social care campaigns to reassure our communities to take up the Covid vaccine? Our people are becoming ill and they are dying because of the misinformation and fear peddled in black communities. Address that rather than looking for personal advancement.

  17. Patrick February 12, 2021 at 6:50 am #

    It doesn’t need the fancy terms. If the recommendations are for positive discrimination, and they are, then say so. I for one would welcome that honesty. Let’s call it out: they hold us back and it’s time they pushed us forward. No need for surveys and consultations for that.

  18. Ali February 15, 2021 at 6:06 pm #

    Spot on Patrick. I for one am fed up with the endless polite requests for fairness and equality. No more reports, no more touting for contracts by supposed experts. We are our own revolution, let’s get on with it.