There’s a problem with racism in social work. It’s not specific to social work, but anti-discrimination is a core value for practice so we must do better. Racism exists within the workforce, and in how the state interacts with children and families. Over the last two years, What Works for Children’s Social Care has embarked on a number of projects to identify and address racism in the sector, including the two rapid reviews we published today (more on them in a moment). But anti-racism is a way of being that requires on-going commitment and action. So whilst our individual projects will have a beginning and endpoint, our work on anti-racism will always continue.
WWCSC can make a unique contribution to anti-racism in social work through our combination of practice, research, commissioning and policy expertise. For example, we can use quantitative research to tell us about outcomes for certain groups. For those of us who are data-minded (not me), looking at protected characteristics in data can be problematic. For starters, social care isn’t great at reliably collecting this data from children and families. But despite this, we want to use data to create evidence that supports an anti-racist children’s social care service.
Understanding the scale and nature of racism in the social care workforce is a helpful starting point for anti-racism. WWCSC was delighted to work with the Principal Social Workers’ Network, Social Work England and the DfE to conduct a profession-wide survey on racism in summer 2021. The preliminary findings from the survey are a hard read, and they are currently being shared with survey participants in a series of engagement events that will inform an action plan. You can expect to hear more on this in spring 2022.
In further efforts to understand the extent of the problem with racism in social work, we completed two rapid reviews in 2021. This type of study looks at existing research evidence to see what we can learn and where gaps exist. In this instance we looked at outcomes for both Black children in care and Black and ethnic minority social workers.
The lack of data in relation to Black children’s experiences is stark, and it’s something our Young Advisors were disappointed to see. The data in our review shows Black children have slightly better placement stability and educational attainment outcomes, in comparison to White children in care. But the low strength of the evidence (i.e. low number and low quality of studies, looking at few children) means this isn’t reliable. The findings could also be attributed to bias in the decisions about which children are brought into care. The headline message is clear, we need much better data, and more high quality research, to be able to understand Black children’s experiences and to provide anti-racist services to children with a social worker.
Our second review looked at the representation, progression, promotion and wellbeing of minority ethnic social workers and social work students. We found evidence that while Black and minority ethnic social workers are overrepresented in the student population and the qualified workforce, they are less likely to complete social work qualifying courses than their White counterparts and there is poor representation of Black and minority ethnic staff in senior leadership roles. So although the profession attracts staff from diverse racial backgrounds, this review indicates that the playing field isn’t level and opportunities to progress are limited for those who come from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds. The review also identified that there is a lack of data on progression and retention of minority ethnic social workers and students.
Both reviews highlight a serious lack of data which hampers our ability to make strong recommendations for practice or policy. We are following up this work with other important projects.
The Workforce Race Equality Standard (WRES) project, run by the Office of the Chief Social Worker for Adults (DHSC), is an example of anti-racism in practice. The project is designed to ensure Black and minority ethnic social care workers are treated fairly and given equal access to career opportunities. Eighteen local authority sites involved in the first phase of the WRES are collecting data about Black and Minority Ethnic staff, including about progression and retention, and using it to develop concrete plans to improve outcomes. WWCSC is supporting the WRES through data analysis, and helping the local authority sites to be evidence-minded in their approach to change. It’s a good example of how we’re using our particular skills and resources to work in partnership to create a more anti-racist profession.
Data and research can provide social work with a better understanding of the extent and the impact of racism and it can also reveal what works to improve outcomes for staff, children and families. We will keep you posted on how our work develops but in the meantime, if you are aware of anti-racist practice in children’s social care that could be evaluated, please get in touch.