Blog: Foster care for adolescents with complex needs
Published: 19 Feb 2021
Today is Care Day 2021, a celebration of care-experienced children and young people. I have volunteered as the Independent Visitor for a young woman in care for the past four years, and my time helping Monica* has had a profound effect on my determination to push for much-needed change for her and for other young people and children in care.
"There are challenges to recruiting and retaining foster carers generally, and there are specific shortages of carers from Black ethnic groups." - Laurelle Brown, Fellow
In my time as her independent advisor, Monica has lived with three foster families, in three residential care homes and one semi-independent accommodation. In recent years, she was moved to a less diverse area, where her racial and cultural needs have not been met and she is often the only person from a Black and minoritised background in her accommodation, including even the staff. She regularly tells me that she experiences racism, and this has been of significant detriment to her mental and emotional wellbeing.
Monica was one of the main reasons I choose to embark on my Churchill Fellowship, which explored foster care for adolescents with complex needs in France, Germany, Sweden and Portugal. Her experiences sparked my desire to understand what can be done to increase the number of adolescents who are cared for by foster families until at least until their 21st birthday.
63% of looked after children in England are adolescents and 7% are Black. Since completing my Fellowship, I have been reflecting on my work as a trainer and consultant at the consultancy I founded, Laurelle Brown Training and Consultancy (LBTC) - and wondering how I can support adolescents who are currently in care. I have actively begun questioning more and listening more - not only to young people but also to care professionals. I soon noticed that the experiences of many Black professionals, including foster carers, reflected my own. Professionals shared that they did not feel invested in and feel stereotyped and treated differently to colleagues from other ethnic groups.
Fast forward a year, and all this feedback and passion to make a change has culminated in myself and my colleague, Adé Solarin, co-founding KIJIJI in July 2020. KIJIJI is a not-for-profit membership organisation focussed on helping Black safeguarding professionals to thrive.
One of the first things we did as an organisation was to undertake a survey of 100 Black safeguarding professionals in the UK, to understand the opportunities and support that are available to them. We published our survey report in January 2021, featuring findings and recommendations aimed at senior leaders and commissioners.
This Care Day 2021, I want to focus on one of the report recommendations that we published: that senior leaders and commissioners should ‘invest in high quality equitable learning and development opportunities’. Three features of this approach are:
1. Intersectional thinking. Intersectionality is a term coined 30 years ago by Kimberlé Crenshaw (professor of law and pioneering scholar and writer on civil rights, critical race theory, Black feminist legal theory, and race, racism and the law). It explains the way in which patterns of discrimination and oppression tend not to be represented within mainstream discourses, such as feminism or anti-racism. This is because intersectional identities (such as being Black and a girl) are not captured within these discourses, which are developed to respond to one experience (race or gender). LBTC’s work recognises and is informed by intersectionality and by how overlapping identities relate to systemic experiences of oppression or discrimination.
2. Reflective activities. Professionals working with children and young people often have little time to think about their actions and work in a meaningful way and as part of a learning process. Reflective practice describes being cognisant of the ideas, values and theory that inform work with children and young people, analysing these in a reflective manner. LBTC’s training incorporates space and time to engage in reflective activities, where professionals explore theories, their personal experiences and practice, with support from trained and experienced facilitators and their peers.
3. Diverse evidence base. As trained practitioners, clinicians and leaders, the LBTC team have all attended further and higher education. What we realise is that, for those of us who attended institutions in the UK, most of the literature we were taught was from academics and authors from Western countries, with Eurocentric views of the world, who developed theory based on studies of homogenous participant groups. We deliberately explore literature and information from a wide range of sources, that reflects the diversity of children and young people in care here in the UK. Concepts such as ‘intersectionality’ and ‘racial trauma’ therefore regularly feature in our learning, which reflects important and relevant work from minoritised authors.
In the UK, there is a shortage of foster carers, especially those able to care for adolescents with complex needs. There are challenges to recruiting and retaining foster carers generally, and there are specific shortages of carers from Black ethnic groups. This recruitment challenge compounds the difficulties that local authorities experience when attempting to source foster carers from the same or similar ethnic backgrounds as a match for Black adolescents with complex needs.
The government’s wholesale independent review of the children’s social care system is now underway, and I am hopeful that the voices of children and young people will be amplified, especially those from minoritised backgrounds, as well as the voices of those who play a crucial role in ensuring their care. Led by former headteacher Josh MacAlister, the review sets out to radically reform the system, improving the lives of vulnerable children so that they experience the benefits of a stable, loving home.
I will be sharing themes from my Fellowship report, from my work and, of course, from dear Monica, in response to calls for evidence. I hope this will genuinely improve the lives of children like Monica whose need is for stability and care.