• Melissa Craib and Amy-Beth Miah

It’s time to talk about Care Experienced People of Colour

This guest blog has been written by Melissa Craib and Amy-Beth Miah. The authors are both mixed race and Care Experienced, they are keen to highlight that both of these are intertwined.

We’ve lost track of the amount of times we’ve been asked “where are you from?”.

Many People of Colour will have already discovered that when your first answer is not accepted, people are not asking where we live, were born or raised. Instead they want to know about our race and heritage, the thing that in their eyes differentiates us from them and gives them a right to ask the question.

Growing up you learn about your heritage from your family. It’s from simple everyday activities like cooking and eating together, celebrating religious holidays, speaking the language they do and listening to the music that they play. They share stories and pieces of information passed down from one generation to another. All of which helps you understand who you are and shapes your identity.

However, for many Care Experienced people when we’re removed from our families, we lose out on these ways to connect with our heritage. Instead, we’re left to try and piece together our family history and identity ourselves which can be difficult and confusing. Being both mixed race and Care Experienced the feelings of being disconnected to our heritage are all too common.

In Scotland, over the last few years there has, rightly, been intense scrutiny on how we experience the care system. Now it’s time to deepen that view and understand how time in care intersects with people’s racial and cultural identities.

Research within Scotland on the experiences of People of Colour in the care system is hard to find. However, when we look to England, and across the world, the research provides an insight into the struggles our community face. Time and time again, research highlights the issues faced by non-white Care Experienced people around identity.

Due to a lack of Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) foster carers, we typically end up being placed with white families, a process referred to as transracial placements. It is suggested these placements often have a negative impact on us. The intervention of being removed from our homes is often traumatic, which can be intensified by being placed with a family of a different race or heritage. Unintentional actions of carers which goes against our cultural beliefs and norms, for example being given or deprived of certain food, can be deeply upsetting.

Our identity is formed by a combination of our experiences and our family’s history, culture, religion and race. For some Care Experienced People, living with carers that have a different religious, ethnic or cultural background can make them feel like an outsider and makes it difficult or confusing when trying to create their sense of self.

On top of that, we often face multiple placements, which means multiple schools, communities and loss of relationships. It’s no wonder that children and young people are struggling to connect with their heritage and form their own identity.

Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits”. Article 8 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child says that the government shouldn’t interfere with a child or young person’s race, culture, religion and language.

Unfortunately, for some Care Experienced People of Colour these are rights that are not being respected. Official statistics show that data isn’t even held on the ethnicity of 11% of young people in care. That’s 1,500 people.

Having a strong sense of race and heritage goes beyond being sure of ourselves. Several studies have shown that when we’re comfortable and confident in ourselves, we’re better equipped to deal with racial discrimination and have positive mental wellbeing.

Researchers also speak about the benefits of being properly taught to deal with essential everyday tasks can have on mental wellbeing and confidence. This includes skin and hair care, as People of Colour often have specific needs that many white carers will not have had to deal with themselves this can carry a lifelong impact if not addressed.

It’s such a common occurrence that books and business have been launched to address the need created by transracial placements and the lack of statutory support available.

In order to thrive, every child needs love, safety and nurture. We understand that we don’t need to be placed in an ethnically matched home to be connected to our identity, understand our heritage and know how to take care of our skin and hair. A study found that People of Colour are no more negatively impacted by transracial placements than those in same race placements. The key factor being the quality of care. Put another way, what matters to us is that someone loves all of us, doesn’t try to create us in their own image and encourages curiosity about our heritage.

For us, that means carers of any background must be prepared to learn and understand the culture, heritage and beliefs of the child they are looking after. Social services must ensure that paperwork clearly includes the ethnic background of all children so that carers can effectively do this. And both must undergo training so that they can be well equipped to ensure children in care can remain connected to their heritage and identity. For both communities the fight for equality is far from over and work still needs to be done. The research is clear that BAME children in England, and across the world such as in America and New Zealand, are overrepresented in the care system. That is having a detrimental impact on us. Intervening in the lives of non-white families and giving children a ‘colour blind’ upbringing, or making their difference feel like a burden, is as wrong now as it was 100 years ago.

Together, we can make a start in Scotland by openly discussing the universal needs of all children and the intersectionality of race and Care Experience. This will help us begin addressing the problems and systemic racism of Britain and ensure that all children and young people can remain connected to their heritage.