Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Ethnic Inequalities in Child Protection and Out- of-Home Care Intervention Rates | British Journal of Social Work | Prof Paul Bywaters, Geraldine Brady, Josephine Kwhali, Tim Sparks & Elizabeth Bos | Coventry University UK | December 2016
In contrast to the USA, ethnic inequities have had little attention in research
A study of over 10 per cent of all children on child protection
Children from ethnic minority categories were much more likely than ‘White’
Controlling for deprivation and examining small subgroups of the broad ethnic categories radically alters the simple understanding that ‘Black’ children are overrepresented compared to White amongst children in out-of-home care, while ‘Asian’ children are under-represented.
While this study could not explain these patterns, it reinforces the importance of both socio-economic circumstances and ethnicity for understanding inequities in intervention rates.
The evidence underlines the powerful moral and economic case for action to reduce inequities in powerful state interventions in family life, not only in England, but internationally.
Equally, if all the ethnic minority children had had the same pattern of socioeconomic circumstances as White British children, there would have been many fewer subject to intervention.
The lack of attention paid to ethnic inequalities in public policy discussions of the child protection systems in the UK and Europe is striking because of the profound implications both for social justice and for public expenditure.
The evidence is not available. It should also not be assumed that rates for all children could be reduced to the rates for the lowest sub-group without the potential for harm just as it cannot be assumed that rates should be raised to those of the highest on the grounds that children’s needs are being missed. The fact that we cannot answer these profound challenges is deeply problematic.
First, this is the first time that such detailed evidence has been presented, breaking down broad ethnic categories into subgroups
Second, the evidence would be much stronger if it was based directly on family socioeconomic circumstances rather than using neighbourhood deprivation as a proxy.
Age related inequalities in combined CPP and LAC rates (per 10,000 children), quintile 5
Age 0–4 5–9 10–15 16–17
White 222.6 194.3 197.1 150.9
Mixed 267.6 225.8 221.6 227.6
Asian 44.3 46.3 46.6 47.9
Black 96.7 97.0 141.4 130.9
Other 114.6 78.2 69.5 146.7
All 163.1 139.8 150.4 128.9
Fourth, further work needs to be done to look at how children from different communities, at different ages and in different circumstances progress through the child protection system to test whether the inequalities reported here relate to who enters the system or how the system responds.
Fifth, as adoption and special guardianship orders have increased radically in recent years as mechanisms by which children leave the LAC statistics, and kinship care is a vitally important additional form of substitute care, the examination of racially based differences needs to be expanded to include these forms of state and family intervention. Without doing so, the complete picture of how the lives of children are affected will not be available. The significance of ethnicity as a factor and the different patterns for
It is rather the case that both racial and economic structures, and their interaction, are of central significance. Indeed, the data on ethnicity strengthen the socioeconomic case, as each ethnic category shows the same positive correlation between increasing neighbourhood deprivation and increasing intervention rates, whenever numbers are sufficient.
This applies in almost every case, not only for each of the eighteen ethnic categories, but within each age group for the five broad groups.
To assess or inspect a local authority’s intervention rates without taking into account both the ethnic and socioeconomic distribution of the child population would make little sense and would lead to inaccurate conclusions. The data presented here demonstrate that understanding what is happening to children and families subject to powerful state interventions requires action on a number of fronts; official data, research, practice, training, inspection and policy making. We need better knowledge.
More detailed and consistent information needs to be collected, reported, analysed and published than has hitherto been produced through official statistics.
Four obvious developments would provide the basis for informed policy making.
The first would be to collect or enable linkage with data on the socioeconomic circumstances of families with whom the state intervenes. Such data are collected for the analysis of the health and education systems in the UK—why not for children’s services?
Third, the analysis of data should include mechanisms for reporting how children move through the system. The different ratios of CPP to LAC for different ethnic categories require data as a basis for understanding.
Research has a different role to that of official data, in particular, to theorise and test explanatory models of intervention inequities. Qualitative methodologies are a necessary adjunct to quantitative evidence in order to capture the attitudes and actions of actors in the system, children, parents, social workers, workers from other professions and agencies, the legal system and policy makers.
Those involved in direct practice and decision making (and training) should also pay much closer attention to patterns of intervention, process, and outcome. It is as a result of a myriad of individual actions that differential outcomes emerge, decisions affecting the patterns of service provision offered, who accesses services, how families are assessed, what assumptions underlie subsequent interventions or non-interventions, and the short- and long-term outcomes. There is a continuing risk of a colour-blind approach through which the underlying patterns and their consequences are allowed to become invisible.
Explanations for the disparities in intervention rates between White, Black and Asian children based on crude assumptions about family patterns or parenting need to be informed by the differential exposure to socioeconomic disadvantage.
It remains the case that—overall—Black children are more likely than White to experience separation from their parents through state action because so much larger a proportion of Black children compared to White live in very disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Overall, Black children of Caribbean heritage were more than twice as likely as White British children to find themselves looked after,
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*Correspondence to Paul Bywaters, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Coventry University, Priory Street, Coventry, CV1 5FB, UK.