Tuesday 24 April 2012
Elaine Arnold; Separation in families of African Caribbean origin
Elaine spoke about the research which she carried out in 1975 and 2001 and now published
in her book ‘Working with families of African Caribbean origin’ published by Jessica Kingsley
Elaine described the Caribbean and her origins in Trinidad. Her book includes a map of the
Caribbean to show that it is scattered and not necessarily an homogeneous culture. Her talk
provided a vivid account of the way in which the separation came about and the impact of it
on the families
Elaine’s research concerns the impact on families of the immigration to the United Kingdom
post World War Two following recruitment drive ‘Your Mother Country needs you!’ This
happened at the same time as migration to America was restricted so was also opportune.
Temporary migration was initially welcomed by those in the Caribbean some of whom
viewed this as an opportunity to earn money over a limited period. Passports were thought
to be valid for five years. It was also perceived that the Mother Country would welcome
such a workforce. Some families migrated intact but most came as individual husbands and
sometimes with partners leaving their existing children to be cared for by extended families.
The reality in the ‘Mother Country’ was different. The welcome was a suspicious one and
most immigrants went into manual employment regardless of ability or qualification. In
addition the 1948 Colonial Act stated that all people born in the colonies were British
citizens and therefore now able to stay. Eventually children were born to those who had
migrated but there remained a need for mothers to remain in employment. Child care was
difficult to come by and was on the whole provided by unregistered child minders who had
little experience of caring for African Caribbean children and tended to ill treat them.
Mothers asked the social services for help and were advised to send children to rural
nurseries left vacant following return to the countryside of women from the UK. Children
who had remained in the Caribbean were now asked to join their parents to reunite families
and to help care for younger siblings. This had a number of consequences for these older
children who were now living with people with whom they had little knowledge or any
strong relationship. They had also been taken from the significant relationships which they
had known to date. The reunification of the families was also difficult for mothers who also
were struggling with the lack of an established relationship.
Elaine’s research found that girls tended to manage this situation better. They were less
avoidant in their attachment behaviour. Boys tended to be less able to adapt, a pattern
which was exacerbated in school and showed itself in poor behaviour, being ignored and
being excluded. Such a pattern is still perceptible today with a higher proportion of such
children being looked after today, higher numbers in the criminal justice and psychiatric
system. For Elaine this echoes Bowlby’s theory of attachment of significant others and the
impact of the loss of this; clinicians have of necessity to view causal processes and see the
disturbances of today as coming from the disturbances of yesterday
Girls and women interviewed by Elaine showed resilience. A number of things helped;
Satisfactory relationship with siblings with whom they had shared similar
Maintenance of contact with the significant carers in earlier life
Satisfactory school experience
Being able to engage in practice of religion primarily in non conformist black
Use of humour
Elaine answered a number of questions from the audience including;
Q Has today’s child care system learned from this
A Finding are applicable to other groups who undergo separation, but the impact of
separation is a dynamic process which needs constant consideration. Employers need to
continually revise their training of its workforce to enable staff to see ‘the bigger
picture’. Need to be mindful that problems occur in families not just because of their
structures but allowing the principles of attachment in working with separation in
Q Are the courts any better?
A Further training is needed especially in relation to causal factors and the need to listen
to people’s narrative more closely
Q Why difference between boys and girls?
A Possibly because girls has roles, such as helping to care for younger siblings
Q Does CAF ‘allow’ for cultural norms for example towards discipline
A There does seem to be more work needed to understand what these are
Q Why is there a prevalence of psychiatric illness in 2nd generation males?
A Maybe 1st generation had experienced secure relationships and able to benefit from
this but unable to repeat this for their own children. There is also a concern about the
diagnosis of a psychiatric illness based on language and communication which in one
culture may not be regarded as normal
Jeffrey Coleman is the Director of South Eastern office of British Association of Adoption and
Jeffrey provided a synopsis of trends in Adoption history based on Jenny Keating’s book ‘A
child for keeps’ and his own long standing experiences. This included an increasing pattern
for the intervention of the state into the lives of families;
Foundation of National Children Adoption Association (Clara Andrew) which in turn
became Standing Conference on and society on regulation of adoption and upon
which BAAF is based
1872 Infant Life Protection Act and Births and Death Registration Act
1889 NSPCC founded
1889 Protection of Children Act
1929 Boarding out of Children by Poor Law Guardians taken over by Local Authorities
1926 Adoption Act, although opposition in Victorian culture for something which
sought to condone action of feckless parents
1936 ? Committee concerned about low level of supervision of adoption activity
1939 Adoption Regulation Act
Jeffrey went on to align the developments with policy and attitudes today
Openness; adoption is no longer a closed model. Is social work treating adoption
plans too narrowly?
Delay; toady’s government is preoccupied with undue delay in adoption process.
Plans do matter and research tends to indicate that the process is slower in harder
to place children.
Matching; Research suggests that there is no impact on a successful adoption of
demographic factors. Should social workers be bolder? Attributes are possibly more
Coercion; average age at adoption is still young. Should we being more proactive
with older children? Adoption is a valid permanency solution still for older children
Despite research the role of birth parent still marginalised in the adoption process
There were a number of questions and comments including;
Q Is there a need for more Adoption Support Assessments?
A Yes, the support given is not consistent everywhere and mostly under resourced
Q What is LA attitude to potential adopters?
A Is a lot of variability as to how potential adopters are viewed
C Even where research may say no impact in relation to demographics, there is an
issue when viewed qualitatively
C Are there only certain types of adopters that come forward
Q should there be more concurrency projects
A Yes but they are very difficult to manage
Q is current climate impacting on those coming forward and on the ability of those
to adopt
A There is undoubtedly an impact at present.