By Rob Preston and Mithran Samuel
Senior leadership buy-in is critical to tackling racism in social work, Community Care Live heard last week.
In the wake of campaigns and activism from students and practitioners against racism in the profession over the past year, British Association of Social Workers anti-racism lead Shantel Thomas said that, while these could have an impact, “it has to start from the top”.
“The local authority does need to buy into it. Do they want to become an anti-racist organisation, is this something that is their priority, is this something that they actually want to do? Senior leaders have to have the mindset of understanding that they actually want to do this.
“It is something that has to be more front and centre. It has to form part of any team meeting or conversation.”
Thomas was speaking on a panel alongside Social Work England’s head of equality, diversity and inclusion, Ahmina Akhtar, and Millie Kerr, anti-racist lead practitioner at Brighton & Hove Council.
Articles on social work and race
- Black and ethnic minority workers three times as likely to fail ASYE as white colleagues, figures show
- ‘It’s right to focus on race, but we must look at equality in social work in the round’
- Black children’s social workers more positive about work environment than colleagues, finds survey for DfE
- Black and ethnic minority social workers disproportionately subject to fitness to practise investigations
- How does social work regulation perpetuate institutional racism?
Kerr, whose role is believed to be the only dedicated anti-racist social worker role among English local authorities, also emphasised the importance of senior leadership buy-in.
She said that in Brighton & Hove, senior leaders had undertaken training in anti-racism workbook Me and White Supremacy, by Layla Saad, and this was now being rolled out to team managers before being extended to social workers.
Though this training was technically voluntary, Kerr said it was “indirectly compulsory” because senior leaders had bought into it.
Impact of anti-racist practitioner
Kerr discussed some of the impacts her role had had within Brighton & Hove, including having racism discussed in supervision and performance development plans and her providing mentoring for black, Asian or ethnic minority staff. In some cases, she said, this had involved persuading staff not to leave the organisation.
Brighton is also one of 18 councils trialling the workforce race equality standard for social care (WRES), initiated by the government’s chief social workers, and involving authorities assessing themselves against a range of indicators on race. These include:
- The percentage of staff from an ethnic minority at each pay band compared with representation in the wider workforce.
- The comparative rates of ethnic minority staff entering the formal disciplinary and fitness to practise processes.
- The comparative rates of staff from an ethnic minority staff experiencing bullying, harassment or abuse from people who use social care, relatives or the public, colleagues or managers.
- Comparative rate of ethnic minority staff leaving the organisation in the past year.
- The comparative rate of staff from an ethnic minority being shortlisted for roles.
Initial results from the WRES are due to be released shortly, as are the outcomes of a survey of social workers’ experience of racism in the workplace. This was carried out by the Anti-Racist Social Work Steering Group, which comprises Social Work England, What Works for Children’s Social Care and the two prinicpal social worker networks.
Akhtar said this was part of efforts to fill a data gap in relation to race in the profession, which also includes Social Work England’s request for practitioners to fill out equality and diversity information when renewing their registration this autumn.
Disproportionate fitness to practice referral rate
An example of the data gap concerns the disproportionate number of referrals of black and ethnic minority practitioners to the fitness to practise system, which the regulator reported in July 2020. At that point, it said the data it had was not precise and that it did not have information on what happened to practitioners from ethnic minorities within the fitness to practise system.
Akhtar confirmed that the data in this area was still “anecdotal” and needed to be more robust.
It was also revealed last year that the panels that heard fitness to practise cases were disproportionately white relative to the composition of the profession. Akhtar told Community Care Live that the regulator was taking steps to recruit more diverse panels, including by ensuring job descriptions did not wrongly deter people from applying.
She said it was important to bring people with you in tackling racism in the workplace, in the context of a fear of talking about it.
“One of the things we’ve done at Social Work England is introduce something called ‘clumsy conversations’. It means people have a way of engaging that allows them to get things wrong and not feel judged. I think there’s something about psychological safety that feels really important.
“I think there is something in people who are quite skilled in one area of work but might not have that confidence in other areas. Sometimes that can be really difficult to experience that cognitive dissonance. We need to have the commitment that Shantel talked about and what’s the best way of bringing people along with us.”