Nina’s story teaches us to celebrate life despite the circumstances of death. Essential to anyone who works or is training to work with young adults and others facing terminal illness, and their families. While deeply personal and familial, Nina works hard to offer solutions for cancer care and families and friends affected by cancer, to make future experiences more bearable.
Nina uses relevant theory, research, personal narrative and reflection to create a moving piece of work that offers invaluable learning points for medics, policy-makers and friends of those affected by the trauma that cancer can bring.
The book moves through three overarching stages: trauma, grief and survivors, being careful not to present grief as a linear process, but instead a cyclical one.
This is not a misery memoir, and it is not a self-help guide. It is a book about keeping going, in the context of the total awfulness of the death of a child. I wish nobody else might need to read it, but I know they will. I am so glad it is now available.
–Tom Shakespeare, Professor of Disability Research, LSHTM
Nina states her intentions early on in ‘Love in the Present Tense’: ‘I want this book to help all those people who are trying to help families like mine.’ While the book looks at the ways that friends, medics and medical policy makers might improve their approach to cancer care and grief, it also delves into an exploration of grief theory, its limitations, and how it has or has not applied to Nina’s own experience.
Wanting to die too when someone you love more than life itself has died is normal, I think. Probably not all that shocking. ‘Beloved Wife’, Natalie Merchant’s song about bereavement, illustrates the same sentiment. Feeling this way is a symptom of ‘complicated grief’ apparently. All grief is complicated, in my view. Moreover, grief is individual. (…) Admittedly, I do find the term contentious. Having shockingly mentioned the unmentionable D word several times already, I am fully expecting a diagnosis of complicated grief myself. This would come from the more medically minded and, dare I say, more judgmental reader. Diagnosis must be so tempting. Years ago, I observed an autistic child in a classroom and made all sorts of smart comments based on the diagnostic label. In my expert opinion, he demonstrated the full list of autistic characteristics. Interestingly, I had made the rooky error of observing the wrong child. Labeling. I could go on and on about labeling.
Exemplified by her ability to identify autistic tendencies in a non-diagnosed individual, Nina provides insight into the limiting and problematic nature of labels. Her error of judgement suggests that when we know what we are looking for, we can see it in anyone, making diagnosis easy but inaccurate or unhelpful. When something is difficult to navigate, or hard to understand, we look for ways to define it and control it, and the term ‘complicated grief’ is a stark example of that. As someone who has supposedly experienced ‘complicated grief’ Nina struggles to find comfort in or identification with the term, seeing it as a vague attempt to conceptualize a complex human experience that arguably transcends sense-making. When an unexpected and unearthing life event is hurled your way, of course your response will be complicated, but it will also be nuanced and individual, which a label is unable to account for.
Nina demonstrates the unpredictability of grief in the following excerpt:
“This account does not have a very clear time frame, I am afraid, and it certainly does not have an ending. We are still living with grief. Since my son was diagnosed, I have had a wandering mind. Focusing on a specific aspect of the narrative is difficult. Events do not come into my head in a straight line without other bits creeping in out of sequence. I both reflect and look forward. Feelings are unruly things. They pop up all over the place and spark memories and ramblings that take me down winding lanes. Some are beautifully covered by canopies of trees that soften the light; others cause me to stall and start to sink into deep mud. Sometimes it is as if I’ve just been struck by lightning. I still experience sudden shock. Disbelief. What the hell happened? The busy, important and impatient among you might prefer this book to travel in a straight line, but grief is not linear.”
Nina makes it clear that while her disconnect is improving, there is often a sense of one step forward and two steps backward as she moves through life with her trauma. While life has unalterably changed, she keeps on going but does not become discouraged when the movement forward takes a more circular than linear form. Unlike many things, grief is not something we complete, despite the Freudian theory and historical literature that seeks to solidify loss in this false comfort.
She talks of how her family keeps James alive in their conversations and days out, often finding comfort in this sense of his presence; in their words and memories. Nevertheless, there are days where his memory is too raw to find comfort in, and this too, is accepted.
The second part of the book looks at the deep impact of trauma, and the ways in which our brain naturally reacts and seeks coping mechanisms. Nina talks of feeling as though she was one of life’s observers ‘no longer a real person’ when she was told James had cancer, but with hindsight she realised her mind was buying time to consider how to react.
“Leo drove us to see James. There was a lot of traffic and I think it was raining. I was supposed to be going into work and then out for dinner, so I sent various texts explaining briefly that James had cancer and I was on my way to see him. Calmly cancelling appointments while feeling completely unreal. The situation felt unreal of course but so did I. No longer a real person.”
While this dissociation from reality seems scary, Nina importantly reminds us that it is a very common response to a situation so far removed from ordinary life that our brain takes stock before taking it in.
Another immediate response is disbelief, Nina describes creating a plan in her mind of how things would pan out, almost immediately after she was told of James’ illness, to try to regain a semblance of control over what was happening.
“My expectation was that Leo would say so as soon as I gave him the chance to open his mouth. Immediately we would then be on the road to putting it right. Fixable. A redeemable situation. When Leo told us that James had an inoperable intestinal cancer which had spread through his liver and maybe to his lungs, I knew rationally that this was a disaster. Obviously, I immediately evoked the image of Lance Armstrong who had survived worse. I knew it was fixable. Of course. How could it not be?”
Having come to terms with her trauma, with hindsight, Nina considers the way that James was told of his illness. She reflects on him being alone when he was told and talks of the lack of sensitivity involved. While she otherwise praises the NHS for their treatment of James, in this moment she feels that what was best for James was not put at the forefront.
“James was alone when he was told that he had cancer, and this should not have happened. Somebody took their eye off the ball and handed a young man a death sentence when nobody familiar was with him. Medics, please learn from this. I can only assume that everyone involved thought that someone else was taking responsibility for looking after him at that crucial point.”
While ‘Love in the Present Tense’ is both a moving and memorable account of loss and grief, it interweaves practical advice for medics and medical policy makers which she believes would have made her experience of cancer care more bearable.
‘Love in the Present Tense’ is available for pre order in paperback, kindle, EPUB and PDF here:
Nina Praske wants to make it clear that ‘Love in the Present Tense’ is not a misery memoir, but a book to find strength and hope in.
Happiness is a lucky pane of glass you carry in your head. It takes all your cunning just to hang onto it, and once it is smashed you have to move into a different sort of life. (Carol Shields, Unless, 2002, p 1)
Nina found this quote after her mother, Sally, died in 2000, instantly resonating with it. When her son James was diagnosed with stage four cancer she began to feel like one of life’s observers, as if a thick sheet of glass was separating her from everything else. She soon realised that this was an innate coping mechanism, which enabled her time to reflect on how she might react.
In ‘Love in the Present Tense’ Nina guides us through the stages of experiencing the unthinkable, from treatment to trauma, to coping as one of the survivors, from a first-hand perspective. With thinking points to punctuate each chapter, we are given a moment to take stock of our own response to grief and we are invited to engage in a more practical reflection as opposed to merely observing from a third person perspective.
“Judith Bernstein (1997) interviewed bereaved parents for a book entitled When the Bough Breaks. I was struck by one mother who talked about her ongoing relationship with life after the loss of her child as being like ‘going to a party with toothache’. Gnawing sadness is always there for me too. Parents I know from TCF say the same thing. Toothache is sometimes for me background noise, sometimes sharp and sometimes intolerable. The dull ache of sadness is constant, but it is apparently possible to just keep going. Sometimes I even experience joy, albeit with the caveat that joy would be rather more joyful if James was with us. Joy in muted colours.”
‘Love in the Present Tense’ is available for pre order in paperback, kindle, EPUB and PDF here:
A celebration of a life, a story of a death, but most importantly an exploration of grief and loss relevant to all those in a position to make that experience more bearable.
NINA PRASKE is a Professor at a UK university. Her greatest achievement is being the mother of three fantastic adult children born close together in under two years. Sadly, one of her sons, James, died of cancer at the age of 25. She loves all her children in the present tense and is determined to hang on to her compassion, live a good life and continue to make a decent contribution to the world. With this in mind, Nina has written this book to help medical professionals and others to do the best they possibly can for families facing up to the premature death of a loved one.
Nina generously offers her experience of loss and grief in an honest account that moves through three overarching realities, treatment, death and survivors.
Addressing all aspects of equality, diversity, equity, and inclusion in education should be a constant focus for educators. Complex and multi-faceted issues related to the protected characteristics identified in the 2010 Equality Act are highly dynamic and ever-evolving, so we must keep up to date with the debates to rework our thinking and practice. The Black Lives Matter movement that has developed in 2020 is a case in point, and we need to take ownership. Olusoga (2020) reinforces this point,
“If the toppling of the statue of the slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol was the most unexpected and astonishing event of recent days, perhaps second has been the sheer scale of the online discussions about racism and black history that have begun to take shape across the world.”
This quote provides educators with a meaningful opportunity to reflect upon the curriculum and reimagine the way it is delivered. Several issues are at play here, and these prompts should get used for guiding your thinking:
How does your curriculum foster a sense of belonging in the children? Can they see themselves in the curriculum? Here, you need to take into account both visible and non-visible characteristics.
Do you challenge behaviour, attitudes, perceptions, and factors that have become social norms?
Do you take into account the everyday experiences your learners have, including those which may be negative?
Do you ensure representation of people, taking into account the full range of protected characteristics, to show the range of ways in which everyone can be successful? While this blog is talking about issues of race, these principles apply to all of the protected characteristics.
To what extent does your staff constitution reflect societal diversity? What implications does this raise for your practice and the content of the curriculum?
Often when we consider the notion of an accessible curriculum, we think about this in terms of differentiation and access for all abilities; it is also essential we think about this from other angles too, including how children are enabled to see themselves in the curriculum. It may help here to think back to your own experiences at school – did you feel represented in the curriculum? What about the extent to which the diversity around you gets represented? Racism is known to stem from the influences of friends and family, neighbourhoods, school, and what we see and read in the media as we grow up. We need to recognise that if children grow up in an environment where racist views get expressed, racist jokes get made, or a mono-cultural society that they may grow up to believe that racism is normal and acceptable.
Some pointers to guide the development of your practice include:
Ensure the cultures and heritage of the children in the class get reflected in the curriculum;
Ensure representation; providing children knowledge and awareness that will support them to live in a global and diverse world;
Embed a culture of inclusivity;
It should not just tick a box – it should get based on the principles of social justice, i.e. equity and fairness;
Recognise areas of sensitivity and historic injustice.
This moves us on to thinking beyond diversity and inclusion to a much deeper concept concerning the decolonisation of the curriculum. Amongst others, Hack (2020) recognises the colonial nature of much of the curriculum, so we need to be actively engaged in ongoing reflection about how we can work towards decolonising the curriculum. There is no quick fix here, but we can make a start and ensure that our direction of travel is appropriate. If we have a colonised curriculum, the notion of accessibility raises its head again because the curriculum is being delivered based on those who have power. Key features of a decolonised curriculum are listed below, and it is useful to consider how these attributes might be achieved, in your context:
Incorporate global perspectives;
Recognise the diversity of the setting; promoting opportunities for global/multi-cultural learning;
Ensure diversity of content and opportunities to broaden perspectives;
Root learning in the context of social justice;
Affirm the positive identities of everyone;
Enable the challenging of assumed, uninformed links between behaviour, intelligence, race, and class;
Challenge previously held views about right and wrong;
When considering Cultural Capital – think, “Whose culture?”
This quote from Hack (2020) provides further food for thought about the distinction between inclusivity and decolonisation,
“…some students and staff favoured ‘decolonisation’ over ‘inclusivity’ because an ‘inclusive curriculum’ or ‘diverse curriculum’ suggests that ‘outsiders’ could ‘join the club’ and that their views ‘could be incorporated’ rather than a far more radical questioning of the cannon itself and the cultural authority that it is imbued with. It is the questioning of the moral authority of the cannon itself, which I think is at the heart of the difference.”
School culture is of central importance here. There has to be a whole-school buy into this, as with anything, for it to be successful. Take some time to review and audit the resources you have to support teaching – what is the representation within your reading books like, for example? There is a clear moral imperative here, and it comes back to the needs of every individual child in that their sense of self needs to be the absolute priority even if it is challenging and potentially uncomfortable.
Right-wing populist political figures along with some tabloid press often project a negative image of refugees and asylum seekers. Untruthful information is disseminated which insinuates such people are bogus and have come here for a better life, free housing and to cheat the benefits system. The truth is asylum seekers come here after fleeing their countries because of escalating conflicts, prolonged war, persecution, tyranny, economic ruin and the rise of Islamic terrorism.
There is also a misconception that they take jobs away from indigenous citizens. The reality is, however, that unless someone gets refugee status they are forbidden to work, and even if they do, they end up in low-paid, unskilled jobs – most are exploited by cash-in-hand jobs. There is little understanding of the suffering they have endured during their journey to the UK and slight consideration is given as to why they had to leave homelands that are destroyed by war or corruption, particularly those hailing from Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Vietnam and Albania.
Many people spend up to two years travelling and almost all have experienced significant loss and trauma, particularly Syrian asylum seekers who escaped from the country’s brutal regime. Those who question why refugees pass through several countries and don’t claim asylum do not realise that many European countries, including Greece, France and Italy, are hostile towards them. Asylum seekers must work hard for success in a new country. From the moment they set foot on a new land, the odds are stacked against them: they are often unable to speak English and have to carve out a new life with limited support. Considering what they left behind in their birthplaces and the hardships they endured in trying to reach safety, it is little wonder their mental health suffers. Often, they are shunned by an unwelcoming mainstream society who are biased, racist and prejudiced towards them because they assume they are telling lies and merely wanting free entitlements.
Immigration authorities can be slow to respond to asylum applications, resulting in lengthy delays – sometimes taking several years – without explanation or justification. During such waits, most refugees and asylum seekers are expected to live in run-down neighbourhoods, often in squalid, sub-standard and overcrowded accommodation and on little money. Maintaining privacy and dignity is nearly impossible. Many suffer in silence, fall victim to depression and loneliness, and lack hope that anything positive will happen. Those who are refused asylum often have all support withdrawn until they are able to submit a fresh claim and have to rely on charitable organisations and food banks to survive. While waiting to lodge a fresh claim, they face destitution and homelessness, which is why many are enticed into criminal activities, drug dealing and sexual exploitation. They also fear being incarcerated in overcrowded detention centres without a fixed length of stay.
The greatest tragedy of modern times is played out in our towns and cities daily. People who live in nice houses and have good jobs care little about this layer of society or their suffering. They don’t realise that most are genuinely lovely, honest and law-abiding people. They don’t appreciate their richness, diversity and integrity. Instead, they prefer to isolate from them. It’s time, however, that greater societal understanding of their plight and suffering is understood.
One way of doing this is for people to talk to refugees and asylum seekers because once a conversation starts and the human being behind the story emerges, something switches (for the better) in hearts and minds. Any previous prejudice and bigotry will start to disappear. With that in mind, it is highly unlikely that any right-wing politician or journalist who vigorously criticises refugees and asylum seekers, without thought or justification, will ever have spoken to one in their entire life. It is impossible for people to truly comprehend the misery and trauma suffered by asylum seekers when they have no idea of the devastating scale of the horrors and brutality behind their hardship and loss.
Following is the story of Yonis, a young man from Eritrea, who is desperately homesick and concerned about the health of his parents back home. He fears he might never see them again.
After I left, my mother sat in the house refusing to go outside. She cried every day and nobody could console her. Occasionally, we get to speak on the telephone, but she continuously asks me if I am okay and if I am safe. She knows little about Britain and can’t imagine living in a country with rights and freedom. Few people have rights back home – only the president and his family. Everybody over 18 in Eritrea must join the army if they do not go on into higher education after secondary school. Leaving school earlier than 18 means you must join the army sooner, because anybody over the age of 13 can be called up for duty.
I was clever at school but had to stop going when I was 14 because my father fell ill. He got an infection in his foot and was unable to look after our goats, which were our main source of livelihood. I had intended going back after his foot got better, but by then I had been reported to the authorities for not attending school. Maybe they thought I had stopped for good. The army sent a letter telling me I had to join. I dreaded the prospect of this. After you enter the army, you are only allowed home to visit your family once every two years. I had little time to make up my mind, but I decided to leave Eritrea. I miss my family terribly and worry so much about them. But I am one of the lucky ones who made it to Britain alive and well. Some of my friends died during sea crossings or in the desert as they made their way by foot across Ethiopia and Sudan and Libya.
Life as a Clinical Psychologist is an accessible text that invites you to think critically about whether becoming a Clinical Psychologist is right for you, questioning and challenging your views and providing an honest perspective of life as a clinical psychologist. For a clearer understanding of how the book might benefit you, Paul Jenkins unpacks the the texts content and aims below:
“Psychology is an intriguing discipline, and the human mind is said to be the most complex structure in the Universe. Clinical psychologists can help when there are problems with the mind–trying to support people make sense of a complicated world and working closely with those affected by mental and physical health problems. Myths abound! The role of the clinical psychologist, however, is unfamiliar to many, even, as I have found, those studying Psychology. There are many myths which surround the profession–for example, that we only work in mental health, or that we do the same things as psychiatrists. This book aims to shine alight on several of these are as to help readers understand a little more about Clinical Psychology as a career. Chapter 8 briefly covers similar professional routes, but the book is largely focused on helping people understand a bit more about what clinical psychologists do. Training Clinical psychology is an influential and popular profession, but it is also very demanding. A doctoral degree is currently required to practice in the UK, and competition for places on these courses is fierce. There is a risk that this selection process can be biased towards certain individuals, although the requirements of entry tend to reflect the skills required by clinical psychologists throughout their career. The Doctorate in Clinical Psychology in the UK is a three-year postgraduate course which involves a mix of teaching and practical experience, the latter obtained largely through placements in healthcare. When qualified, individuals are eligible to register as clinical psychologists and work in applied roles, or go on to do further training if desired. A rewarding career. However, training in Clinical Psychology is only the beginning in a typically long career, one which sees clinical psychologists working across a wide variety of settings. My hope is that this book can provide a view of what life is like working as a clinical psychologist, and it has been helped by contributions from several individuals who have imparted their considerable experience. It covers the research role in some detail, as well as discussing issues such as developing a specialism and how the profession may shift over time. If you are interested in becoming a clinical psychologist, I hope this book helps you learn a bit more about what it is like–and what you might be signing up for! I really hope that the benefits of this wonderful career come across, and that it paints a true impression of some of the lesser-known sides.” – Paul Jenkins
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We are excited to announce the publication of ‘Young Refugees and Asylum Seekers, The Truth About Britain’ by Declan Henry on 9th of October 2020. The author of seven books and numerous published articles, Declan seeks to disperse the myths and misconceptions about young refugees and asylum seekers in Britain by providing a compassionate and empathetic insight into the daily struggles they face including discrimination, racism and poverty. He explores why they came to the UK and the safeguarding issues involved, the services they receive and the gaps and inequalities as a whole.
Having obtained a BA (Hons) in Education and Community Studies and a MSc in Mental Health Social Work, Declan has worked extensively with young asylum seekers and refugees and has a wealth of experience in social work. He discusses his motivation for writing ‘Young Refugees and Asylum Seekers’ in an interview with Celtic Life International, ‘The main reason I wrote the book was to highlight the unfair treatment and sometimes lack of resources and services available to this group of young people. I also wanted to dispel the misconceptions that mainstream society often holds about them.’
Upon reading ‘Young Refugees and Asylum Seekers’ the renowned human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell commented,
‘This is the true story of Britain’s refugees: their humiliation, ill-treatment, demonisation and suffering – but also their courage, ingenuity, determination, setbacks and triumphs. It shows why the harsh, cruel reality of Britain’s failed asylum system must be reformed.’
Interweaving information and experiences throughout, seventeen year old Amir describes the impact of uncertainty and displacement on everyday life: ‘I have friends. I smile and I laugh, but underneath my head is exploding with worry and full of thoughts about what will or won’t happen. There is no happiness in my life, not knowing what the future holds. Unless a person has peace in their soul, they can never be happy.’ By shedding light on the lived experiences of young refugee and asylum seekers, we access the tools necessary to approach the crisis with a stronger sense of humanity and tact. Declan hopes his book will encourage society to consider the path people have taken before judging them because ‘it is impossible to comprehend the suffering and trauma endured by young people when they have no idea the scale hardship, loss, death, brutality, fear and horror they have suffered.’
With 37 million and counting having been displaced since the War on Terror, and what the Guardian calls ‘catastrophic effects’ of COVID-19 on refugee education, there is no more pertinent time than now for calls to action and compassion concerning refugee and asylum seekers across Europe. Declan reflects, ‘My book aims to increase understanding about the terrible ordeals of refugees and asylum seekers who have had to flee their countries because of escalating conflicts, prolonged war, economic ruin and the rise of Islamic terrorism. I hope my book reaches as many people as possible and brings about a greater societal understanding of the plight and suffering of refugees and asylum seekers.’
This month we are pleased to publish the following article by Wayne Reid, BASW England Professional Officer & Social Worker.
Following the constructive feedback received on my last article, I’ve been keen not to rest on my laurels. Kind words and superlatives are, of course, pleasant and healthy for the ego – but they won’t eliminate the barrage of everyday multidimensional racism. Whilst pausing the platitudes, I’ve been ruminating about clear actions that social work educators, employers and key stakeholders can take to promote anti-racism. My aim in this article is to outline some practical (and skeletal) ideas for social work organisations to consider. I will use the terms people of colour (POC) and Black and ethnic minority interchangeably for ease. There is a multitude of live weblinks. Again, I write this article from my own viewpoint, not on behalf of all Black and ethnic minority people or social workers – as we are not a homogenous group. Also, I’m by no means an expert in organisational development/leadership, but I do consider myself as an ‘expert with lived experience’ of personal and professional racism in life and in social work. These are purely my opinions. Contemporary scholars include: @gurnamskhela, @consultancy_hs, @kguilaine and @muna_abdi_phd
Black and ethnic minority social workers cannot and should not be expected to ‘fix’ racism
Black and ethnic minority social workers cannot and should not be expected to ‘fix’ the racism in their workplace. However, those of us who are confident and capable enough (with the right support) can have a crucial role in educating, empowering and equipping ourselves and (potential) allies and influencers to enhance and shape anti-racism initiatives in our workplace settings.
EVERYONE has a duty to combat racism (and other forms of discrimination) in the spaces they occupy. This includes reporting racist incidents when they occur; forming like-minded alliances with peers to tackle key issues; raising awareness and making suggestions for positive reform. However, this article is aimed primarily at social work employers, educators and key stakeholders.
Typical organisational responses to tackling anti-racism:
From my cultured social work experience, the responses below generally indicate an organisation’s prioritisation and level of commitment (or not) to anti-racism. However, before any meaningful change can be achieved, social work educators and employers must acknowledge the inherent and intrinsic nature of ‘whiteness’, ‘White fragility’, ‘White privilege’ and white supremacy as subconscious default positions in most (if not all) institutions, structures and organisational cultures. Individual and organisational awareness is an imperative first step for social workers, social work employers and social work educators to address workplace racism effectively. “In a [multifaceted] racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.”
Broadly, there are 3 typical organisational responses when attempting to tackle racial inequality:
Keep silent, keep things the same and “hope all this Black Lives Matter (BLM) ‘stuff’ just blows over”. This kind of inaction and paralysis of fear correlates with and reinforces perceptions of ‘White fragility’, ‘White privilege’ and white supremacy for some POC. This type of organisational response usually commends staff for being resilient and deflects attention away from the essential redesign of systems that routinely make people suffer.
Publish lukewarm organisational statements that recycle and regurgitate previous rhetoric on workforce unity with predictable (and borderline offensive) platitudes – often proposing only superficial changes. For example, publishing a sympathetic, but non-committal kneejerk brief statement; possibly delegating responsibilities to an already overworked Equalities Officer or proposing minor changes to already vague policies/procedures on ‘valuing diversity’ with little or no accountability. Approaches at this level are usually well-intended, but tokenistic and overlook the nuanced obstacles and pitfalls POC face every day. Unfortunately, this response is common.
Publish an authentic anti-racism action plan outlining significant reforms that commit to specific, measurable, achievable and realistic targets (suggestions below). For example, publishing a strong mission/position statement condemning George Floyd’s murder and racism in all its forms and committing to BASW’s Code of Ethics, anti-oppressive, anti-discriminatory and anti-racist practice. This approach interlinks with the ‘Anti-Racist commitment framework’ (below).
The acid test is to share this article with your social work leaders and see what response you get.
Covert, entrenched and everyday racism in the workplace
If the recent news of police officers taking ‘selfies’ beside the bodies of 2 murdered black sisters; the recent far-right violent protests in London or the racist comments by Suffolkcouncillors do not outrage you or alert you to the fact that racism is thriving in this country right now – then you really need to consider whether you have sleepwalked into being an opponent of anti-racism. At the very least, we must be self-aware and honest (with ourselves and others) when our boredom threshold is reached. This can be subliminal and counterproductive to anti-racism at every level. Everyday micro-aggressions (including ‘banter’ in the workplace) can fuel violent racist incidents.
The covert, entrenched and everyday racism in the workplace sometimes indicates the lack of quality cultural diversity and multicultural education and training available (to all staff). Surprisingly, it is rarely acknowledged in social work that race is simply a socially constructed idea with no scientific validity – invented and refined principally to oppress POC. This has modern and everyday ramifications in the working environment. Throughout the Coronavirus pandemic, Black and ethnic minority practitioners have reported to the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) that Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) has clearly been prioritised/withheld on occasions for their white colleagues. Others explained they were made/ordered to visit service-users with suspected COVID-19 (with no PPE and no guidance/support), whilst white managers stayed at the office with ‘their’ supply of PPE and engaged in racist banter. These perverse experiences can be impossible for victims of ‘naked and slippery’ everyday racism to articulate to others or reconcile internally themselves. Furthermore, these incidents are normalised and subsumed in many workplace cultures, with limited opportunities to ‘professionally offload’. In some cases, it’s really not hard to see who the direct descendants of slave-owners are. With some people, it stands out like a beacon, regardless of what they say and do.
As outlined in my previous article, there is a long [history] of atrocities and brutalities endured by Black and ethnic minority people globally. ‘Black lives matter’ is an acknowledgment that our lives need to matter more than they have, that society should apportion them equal weighting. That is why the retort of ‘White’ or ‘All’ Lives Matter in response to BLM is not really comparable or relevant. Would it be right to ask: “What about colon cancer?” during a discussion about breast cancer? Or advise a bereaved mother that ‘all lives matter’ at her child’s funeral? “Save the whales” does not mean other sea life is unimportant. This is not complex stuff and just requires us to revitalise our basic human qualities – compassion, empathy and humanity. Factually, unlike the lives of Black and ethnic minority people, white lives have always mattered. So, to keep proclaiming ‘White lives matter’ adds excessive value to them, tilting us further towards white supremacy. In hard times, surely it is right to protect and support certain groups – particularly vulnerable ones. This does not devalue, disadvantage or discredit any other groups; it just raises general awareness and improves the support available to specific groups that require immediate attention. BLM has its critics, but it is unclear why a movement that promotes equality is demonised by some people who vehemently claim they are not ‘a’ racist.
Anti-racism in social work must be fully considered and dismantled through collaboration with Black and ethnic minority social workers in roles as ‘experts with (personal and professional) lived experience’. This is the only way that Black and ethnic minority social workers’ basic needs can be properly met and their wide-ranging expertise fully utilised. Of course, this approach can only improve the experiences of black and ethnic minority service-users too. It really is just a question of how much of a priority is anti-racism in social work?
So, how can social work employers implement ‘anti-racist practice’ in the workplace?
What might an anti-racist working environment look like? What can social work employers do to promote anti-racism in the workplace? What would the experience be like for Black and ethnic minority social workers? Here is my vision of how this might work in reality:
Anti-racist recruitment targets are set to employ Black and ethnic minority senior leaders and educators to better reflect local communities and the workforce (where necessary/possible).
The ‘Rooney Rule’ is adopted, similar to senior recruitment in American National Football League. This involves at least one POC candidate being interviewed for each senior leader vacancy.
Anti-racism is: explicitly promoted in mission/position statements (good example here) along with other forms of anti-discrimination; included in relevant polices/procedures and forms part of employees’ employment contracts to underline its importance.
The data on workforce diversity and ‘protected characteristics’ (ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality etc) informs the support available for minority groups; training for all staff and organisational policies and procedures. The workforce is encouraged to self-declare their identity and individual/group wellbeing at work provisions are developed in partnership with them. Creative wellbeing at work provisions are developed for those who have experienced workplace trauma associated with racism (and other types of discrimination). This includes peer-led support groups for members to reflect fully on their personal and professional experiences. Personal wellbeing is a mandatory agenda item for supervision meetings. By using this ‘identity dashboard’ approach, organisational efforts are more focussed and genuine; progress is properly managed through a cycle of reviewing data output and periodic verbal/written feedback from the workforce.
Safe and informal systems are introduced for Black and ethnic minority social workers in the workplace. For example, discriminatory practices or constructive solutions are made anonymously in an ‘honesty box’ to empower POC without fear of reprisals. Arising issues are then explored in supervision, team meetings or with senior leaders (if necessary).
Annual ethnicity pay audits ensure that any anomalies and discrepancies for Black and ethnic minority staff are properly reviewed and resolved.
The Covid-19 risk assessment is consistently used for all staff (particularly those from Black and ethnic minority groups).
Anti-racist education is recognised as being at the heart of developing a more cultured and inclusive workforce and healthy workplace.
Education providers ‘decolonialise’ social work training programmes with the input of black and ethnic minority academics, social workers and service-users integrated at all stages of programme development and delivery.
Anti-discriminatory, anti-oppressive and anti-racist practice
form a fundamental and mandatory requirement of social workers professional development and registration. This includes a range of educational tools and training opportunities (for different learning styles) to ensure quality cultural diversity education is prioritised and valued. Staff continuously learn and better understand microaggressions, stereotypes and how they can demonstrate ‘anti-racist practice’.
The expertise of specialist external trainers and consultants is instrumental in shaping effective anti-racist approaches – with no reliance on tokenistic online courses.
Here are some additional weblinks to anti-racist education: 1, 2 and 3.
Anti-racist allyship is understood by senior leaders, educators and practitioners to be vital in combating all manifestations of racism. Educating, empowering and equipping allies to actively support colleagues from marginalised and minority groups is common practice.
Allyship actively promotes ways in which managers and staff can become allies or become better allies to support their Black and ethnic minority colleagues. Social work employers and educators demonstrate they are willing to keep listening and learning from POC to instigate any meaningful change.
Anti-racist ‘reverse-mentoring’ enables Black and ethnic minority social workers to mentor senior leaders and educators on anti-racism (especially those with identified ‘anti-racist needs’). It is important reverse-mentoring allows mentors some autonomy in their approach. Furthermore, mentoring agreements (considering confidentiality, power dynamics and conflict resolution) are agreed and signed by both parties at the outset.
To combat ‘glass ceiling racism’, various professional development opportunities are available designed to provide advice/support colleagues from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds to enhance their career progression.
‘Positive representation’ recognises the disadvantages and obstacles for POC and provides opportunities (mentoring, nominations, secondments, shadowing etc) to support them in reaching their full potential.
Due to the representational imbalance, ring-fenced investment and operational resources to support leadership programmes is in place. This addresses the lack of Black and ethnic minority social workers in senior roles and provides support for those who are.
Unsurprisingly, I cannot be detailed or too prescriptive above due to limited space. Also, the demographics/dynamics in each work setting will vary. However, my suggestions can be cross-referenced with the ‘Anti-Racist commitment framework’ (below). The framework’ provides more detail on: accelerating diversity; educating, empowering and equipping people; leading by example and building transparency. The framework is also compatible with BASW’s Code of Ethics, Working Conditions Wellbeing Toolkit and mentoring scheme.
Ok, so what needs to happen nationally?
The existing national frameworks and initiatives to support Black and ethnic minority social workers are fragmented and optional. This can create confusion and dilution in their coherence and implementation in practice. Social work has a long history of committing to anti-discriminatory practice, but less in the way of practical mandatory implementation or robust challenge on these issues. Now is the time for the profession to properly address this. I (and no doubt many others) would welcome the prioritisation of sector leaders (including the Chief Social Workers, Social Work England, Directors of Social Services and other key stakeholders) to meaningfully and purposefully move this agenda forward to establish a mandatory ‘anti-discriminatory national framework’ that is universal across social work – in collaboration with BASW.
An important first step, would be to explicitly reintroduce anti-discriminatory, anti-oppressive practices and anti-racist values and ethics into the professional and qualifying education and training standards. This new regime should involve partnership working between key stakeholders to enforce these values and ethics across the professional landscape. Key aims/objectives would be to: ensure consistency, introduce mandatory requirements, emphasise ‘anti-racist’ values and be universally applicable to all social workers like the Professional Capabilities Framework and the professional standards.
We all know that organisations can sometimes be avoidant of anti-racism, but as social workers we must recognise that silence (or inaction) on racism is complicity with the oppressors. Unfortunately, as a profession we have been complacent and have much more to do to cultivate equality, diversity and inclusion in the workplace and society.
BASW England is able to provide advice/support; facilitate consultation and deliver training (where possible) to assist social work organisations in implementing the above approach and embedding the ‘Anti-Racist commitment framework’ (below). For social workers, there are various opportunities through BASW to develop your expertise in this area with our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Group, events, branch meetings and training programmes. Also, BASW England will be leading a Black and Ethnic Professionals Symposium (BPS) for BASW members from 23/07/20 and a forthcoming anthology, so do contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or @wayne_reid79 – if you are interested in any of these initiatives. Many of you will also be aware of our campaign to change the imagery on the KCMG medal and our open letter to the Queen. BASW will not remain silent on this issue and we implore you to do the same.
I sincerely hope this article resonates with those with power and influence within social work to rigorously combat racism by integrating a mandatory ‘Anti-racist commitment framework’ (below). I am confident that this will embed anti-racist values and ethics into practice (not just theory). Also, I also hope anti-oppressive and anti-discriminatory practice can be reaffirmed generally, as sadly, these have slid off the agenda significantly in recent years.
As a footnote, the Criminal Justice Act 1991 (Section 95), contains a section requiring the Home Office (changed to the Ministry for Justice) to annually publish the results of Criminal Courts in England and Wales. This makes it unlawful for those employed in Criminal Justice System (social work educators and employers) to discriminate on the grounds of ‘ethnic background’. This is a powerful tool, possibly under-used, by black and ethnic minority professionals and white officers (allies) who identify racism – particularly in social care generally. This has the potential of legislative support for operational staff who raise the issue of racist practices (where perceived).
Let’s not forget, “when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression”. The only real enemy of progress is ignorance. Social justice must prevail.
‘One world, one race… the human race!’
ANTI-RACIST COMMITMENT FRAMEWORK
ACTIONS FOR CHANGE
ACCELERATING DIVERSITY WITHIN
We will build a workforce more reflective of the communities we serve by promoting opportunities for black and ethnic minority people to enter and advance within the organisation.
Create a new fast-track scheme for high potential people from ethnic minority backgrounds, fuelled by targeted recruitment for senior leadership and work with partners to help grow diverse talent pools. Selected staff will be mentored by a member of the Senior Leadership Team as they progress through different opportunities designed to build their career foundations. This will be maintained by ensuring there are diverse shortlists for every senior management role across the organisation.
EDUCATING, EMPOWERING and EQUIPPING PEOPLE
We will transform the culture to zero tolerance of discrimination. Introducing new immersive training to enhance awareness and support, to underpin inclusive management and meet various learning styles.
Race and culture awareness training will be mandatory for everyone. This will go beyond routine online training by: offering guidance; peer support groups; recognising local issues; providing support to equip managers to champion diversity and utilising external specialist advice/support as/when necessary.
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
We will ensure that every one of our senior leaders has a greater understanding of the issues faced by ethnic minority communities and are equipped to lead the fight for equality.
Every senior leader will commit to either a) to have an ethnic minority reverse mentor or provide professional support to a community organisation serving ethnic minority groups.
We will address any gaps in our own data collection, ensuring that senior leaders can be held to account for the progress made in tackling both discrimination and equality of opportunity.
Staff will be encouraged to self-declare their identity, enabling us to build a rich profile of the workforce’s diverse needs. This will underpin the introduction of an annual ethnicity pay audit, backed by any immediate action required. An ‘ethnicity dashboard’ will enable us to track progress across the colleague lifecycle and set targets for senior leaders. This will be published internally annually.
If you found Wayne’s article thought-provoking you might like to look at the following Critical Publishing publications: