THE DANGER OF ASSUMPTIONS & STEREOTYPE
I recently posted a video regarding the involvement of youth and family services, which went viral. I was inspired to create the video to highlight the vast in differences in perspectives between professionals and parents, as we are often blamed for occurrences which are sometimes beyond our control. As a support work and social care professional myself, the solutions seemed pretty easy. We send in a ‘professional’. But what defines a professional? Looking at it as parent life looks totally different.
I personally was sent a wealthy middle aged white female support worker called in by my son’s school, after he ran away and got arrested for the first time. Due to the length of time of running away social services were also required to conduct an assessment on my family home and life. The conclusion was there were no issues with my parenting and that my son had wanted to escape my rules and boundaries. Prior to this my son was a signed footballer and top grade student at school for 15 years, who was no longer at football due to a long term injury. The case was then closed, with recommendations that my child be returned to my care and boundaries whenever he absconded from home, as I was the only person with legal parental responsibility. She added that I was the only parent with rules and boundaries, and that my child was at risk of offending where he was running away to and deemed it unsuitable. However, against social service recommendations the support worker sent by the school decided that from her ‘personal assessment’ my parenting wasn’t good enough, based only on the fact that she believed I was hard on my child by asking him to clean his room and after himself. Not clean the whole house, but just after himself. Because that is how she raised her own son. She also for some reason felt that I was not a good mother because I did not give pocket money or should I say ‘reward’ my son for disobeying rules, getting arrested and no longer wanting to be in school, in favour of sleeping all day long and hanging out with friends. Merely because someone has passed away in her family and left her money, and that’s what she did with her son. Totally ignoring our family background and lifestyle.
This particular support worker fabricated stories that would enable her to feel good about the personal decision she made to start treating my child as her own. Giving him her personal money each week and encouraging him to believe I was a bad mother for not doing so. The stories were passed from professional to professional among the YOT and probation for a number of years, resulting into false assessment of my family’s case. This false information led to serotyping, discrimination and the ignoring of this woman’s inappropriate, unprofessional and illegal work conduct, even though they were all fully aware. After a period of time I began to talk to her about my concerns about her work conduct, so she took it upon herself to encourage my son to move out to the exact place social services had personally stated to her that my child should not be, which enabled her to have whatever relationship she liked with my son without my interference. She even went as far as taking it upon herself at times of him being purposely tagged to my home by a judge, to use her job role to get the tag removed behind the judges back and move him right back where he shouldn’t have been. Each time he’d be on the street committing crime and being constantly arrested, and neither her nor the person he was staying with ever attended the police station. All the broken pieces were left down to me, every arrest, every court case, every meeting, and every fine. And all the judgement.
My child had learnt the art of telling her what he knew she liked to hear and do whatever she wanted him to do in order to extract money. The magic words “mums shouting at me to clean up”. Because he could also clearly see that this woman obviously felt that committing crime, lack of education and rules and boundaries, money and ruining my son’s life, was far better than being asked to clean his room. So when my child went into remand in prison, I questioned who is to blame? Now he steals money from any and everyone when she’s not around or doesn’t answer her phone, I question who is to blame? Now he has become accustomed to a financial status he cannot maintain and committing crime in order to make money, who is to blame? But further still I question why when reported it to other professionals not one service ‘intervened’ into this woman conduct. I wonder if I did have a social worker watching over me and my children, if this woman would have still managed to get away with what she did? Instead I was ignored, laughed at and labelled crazy. Until I went viral with my story!!! Instigated the day I discovered she has had my son sleep over her home in her bed, following a three year battle which almost actually drove me crazy and ill I had nearly given up.
Risk of crime and safeguarding are terms used by these services, but are they putting them into work practice? Do the results and evaluations of services give a ‘true reliable account’ of the outcomes of service provisions for young people and families? Are they really concerned about best practice and reflecting on practice as part of quality assurance? I continually argue that a large number of services lack quantitative research and the exposure of service users real life views, opinions and feelings surrounding children, youth and family provisions.
At the time I had no idea that my video would open a vortex to the discovery of such serious issues and need for reform in policy and provisions for children, young people and families. I received hundreds of messages and calls from mothers who had similar stories of the destruction intervention has caused in their families, due to inappropriate conduct and breeches of the law. From professionals who in fact perform their roles from personal stereotyped views and not according to the legalities of work policy and procedure. The largest majority were black, however it did not exclude a number of white women with mixed race children being treated the same. The most touching were were messages and phone conversations from women in their 50’s and 60’s thanking me for giving them a sense of peace by speaking out. Views and opinions came from all over the world supporting my concerns, from the UK to America, Africa, France, and the Caribbean. As well as support from a number of community youth groups, social care professionals, solicitors, and community and political activists in London, which has resulted in planed meetings with MP youth commissioners and an opportunity for a number of people to come and voice their opinions and let their voice be heard.
Through response to my video call for action my findings in the UK were as followed…
INCORRECT DIAGNOSIS OF MENTAL HEALTH
When being outspoken or presenting challenges to professionals Black women are often being labelled as ‘crazy’ or mentally ill. A large number of mothers had their children taken away from them and were placed into mental institutions. One female spoke of being scared to tell the mental health team that she had spent Christmas with her family, as it would result in her being encouraged to believe that it must have been stressful and may cause further mental health issues and that she should come in for an up in dosage of medication. Despite being released from the mental institution over 10 years and her children now being over 30 years old. So instead she lied and said she spent it alone. A large number of females stated that they feel that their views and opinions are being ignored by numerous professionals such as social services, support workers, the police and health services, because they are perceived as ‘crazy’. A surprisingly large number of males had revealed that they had grown up in care or with their fathers due to their mothers being in mental institutions. “According to the Mental Health Bulletin, nearly 5,000 “black” or “black British” people per 100,000 accessed mental health services in 2014-2015” (The Guardian 2016).
Research reveals recent arguments highlighting high percentages of black ethnic minorities being placed into the mental health system, based on racist and prejudice diagnostic and not factual evidence. This impact of misdiagnoses has created damaging effect on individuals and families, and creates barriers between professionals and community members. Yet the law states that assessments must be true and accurate and that particular groups and individuals must not be discriminated or treated unequally.
MISINTERPRETATION OF COMMUNICATION
When being outspoken or presenting challenges to professionals Black women are often being labelled as aggressive. Many stated that they constantly feel as though they have to change their entire being just to make people feel comfortable and less intimidated by the cultural differences in expression and language. Many again feel as though their views and opinions are being ignored because focus is more on personal interpretation ‘of a black woman’ then listening. Misinterpretation leads to unfair treatment and punishment at work, and barriers to working relationship with professional agencies such as the police, social services, schools and youth offending services. Yet the law states that professionals should be non-judgemental and treat all individuals and groups equally, which means getting to know and understand different cultures in order to reduce barriers.
Many mothers spoke about professionals revealing information to them which had not taken place and was not true, particularly social workers. Some were forced to record conversations for later evidence. A few parents spoke of being accused of being involved in crime or having partners in crime because their ‘children were dressed too well’. One young mother went on to add that she had presented evidence of the £10 dress from Primark her child was wearing during the engagement with a social worker, yet during the child protection meeting the statement was still upheld and there was no acknowledgment of the receipt of email and shop receipt revealing the barcode of the item which the social worker had ‘assumed’ was expensive.
Another constant issue under false assessment was again the topic of cultural differences. Many mothers stated that they were accused by professionals of being too hard on their children, excluding the police service who welcomed and encourage parents rules and boundaries. One mother revealed that she had contacted social services for support. During assessment the social worker asked her what time she wanted her 11 year old girl home from school to which the mother responded “straight away”. The social worker asked the child what time she ‘wanted’ to be home to which the child responded 9pm. The social worker then enforced a time frame for coming home at 8pm against the mothers parenting wishes and cultural values for a child aged 11. Based on the social worker personally feelings that the mother was being too hard. Another mother revealed that a social worker had been involved by a solicitors firm regarding the security of the family’s home due to rent arrears. During assessment the social worker personally felt that the mother should not be home school and questioned why the mother felt she was adequate enough to tutor her child. Despite her explanation to safeguard her child after getting in with the wrong crowd, after 2 years of homeschooling her child with authorisation of the education authority, the mother was forced by the social worker to send her child to a Pru. Using threats of neglect of her 14 year old sons wants and wishes to go to school, suggesting questioning into her parenting. The young boy was later stabbed and nearly died just 2 months after attending the pru. I question who takes responsibility for this? A large number of mothers felt that personal views on the child’s rights should not outweigh parental responsibility and duty to safeguard and raise their children how they see fit. The law states that both parents and professionals have a duty to keep children and young people safe and free from harm. Parents wishes should be respected as long as there is no threat to the child’s wellbeing.
Another mother had her child removed from her care at 16 days old based on the assumption of being a crack user, with the refusal of conducting a drug test to prove the mothers innocence, and no evidence what’s so ever to have come to such conclusion. She happened to live outside of London and is the only black person in her area. This mother felt so ashamed she had been lying to people about the whereabouts of her child.
LACK OF INFORMATION SHARING
A large number of mothers have reported that their children had ran away whilst in care of the authority for periods of up to 6 months and missing from services for 6 years with no reports being made to the police or parents about the child’s well-being. One mother stated that she had reported the whereabouts of her 14 year old girl who was living with a 27 year old man whilst in care, but nothing was done by the authorities. Her daughter later returned pregnant for the man, who has never been questioned about the inappropriate relationship or reported to the police. The daughter’s child was then placed under child protection because of reported violent behaviour of the man.
Another mother reported that she had made an allegation of sexual abuse from another student in a primary school. The head point blank refused to address the issue and instead suggested her child be sent to special needs school because of his poor behaviour. Yet his school reports and parents evening reports reveal he had no behaviour or learning issues. The head insisted he did and he needed to leave the school immediately.
Reports made by parents against professionals or regarding safeguarding do not appear to be taken seriously. Yet the law states that professionals are bound to share information in order to keep children and young people safe, and to listen to families.
There were several reports about workers across the board, including the police, social workers, healthcare professionals and support workers. But what stood out most of all was the amount of issues reported about professional put in place to reduce and protect our young people from risk of crime in the YOT and probation. Also the amount of stereotyping which also comes from a number of black workers within this neglectful egotistic work culture.
Overall government policy and procedures are not being followed, and a large number of professionals are unequipped to perform their role. I personally have worked with support workers and social workers straight from uni with no experience or understand of the clientele, backgrounds and families they work with. Basing most of their judgements, assessments and decisions on personal views and textbook information, excluding vital information which will enable them to provide effective support for a number of families. This lack of knowing and understanding creates and promotes inequality and injustice among a group of people who are already at great disadvantage in society. Being ignored and not respected has left a number of women feeling suicidal, not because of mental health issues, but because they single handedly carried, birthed and looked after their child before others became involved in the decision making in their child’s life, and their voices are no longer being heard. Only I just happened to be a parent who was educated in childcare, criminology, youth studies, the police codes of practice, and teaching and national minimum working standards in health and social care! With insight into academics that assist me in gaining a 360 degree picture whilst perched on the other side of the fence. My knowledge of the streets had always benefited me with my clients as a support worker, now my profession proves benefit for my personal life.
… And according to government policy services are supposed to be centred around the service user, and not the professionals personal views, values, beliefs and opinions because this is against the law of human rights, anti discrimination and equality. Or so I was taught!