Child abuse may be common among African families who have voluntarily or forcefully immigrated to the UK due to reasons such as tribal wars, poverty and political turmoil in their country of origin. Available research evidence tends to suggest that black African children in living in the UK are over-represented in the child protection system. It is against this backdrop of over-representation of black African families in the child protection system, which has prompted researchers, authors, policy makers and educationist to undertake a number of studies examining child abuse among African families living in the UK, so as to understand and ascertain the causes of this unacceptable behaviour and its consequences on social work practice. Many recent research work show that culture and religion are the most pertinent factors that influence and shape the parenting skills and behaviours of African families. This culturally-oriented approach of raising children by African families, though widely acceptable within the African community could be one of many reasons why many black African families are alleged to abuse their children, and making social workers to investigate and even take these children into local authority care.
Bernard & Gupta (2006) study found that black African children and families are more likely than white families to be drawn into the child protection system on the basis of inherent differences in beliefs and child-rearing practices. With the rise in multi-cultural influences on the lives of many black African families living in the UK, it is particularly important to shift focus from culturally-centred behaviours onto poverty-centred behaviours. Where literature exist, not many research work on child abuse cases among African families living in the UK have really considered the devastating effect of poverty on parenting behaviours, which is a prerequisite for proper child upbringing.
Many African children viewed under the Children Act 1989, may be classified as children in need as their parents struggle to provide them with adequate child-care needs, and not seen to be deliberately causing harm to these children. Poverty is strongly linked with reports of abuse and neglect and a significant number of black African families and children live far below the poverty line. Arguably if social workers develop a fuller understanding of the effect of poverty on parenting behaviours of African families, it may curtail many unnecessary interventions which draw black African children into the child protection system. African families living in poverty are always suspicious of social workers who lack the understanding of their values and their way of raising children and therefore make negative judgement about their way of parenting children. This negative perception of social work practice by African families and children living in the UK breed grounds for mistrust and apprehension and make working with such families a major challenge for social workers. Therefore the poverty status of African families living in the UK is an important factor to be considered by social workers working on child abuse cases with African families. As explained by Bernard & Gupta (2006), black African children and their families are more likely than white families to be subjected to unnecessary social work interventions and therefore are over-represented on the child protection register under the category of poor parenting behaviours. However, black African families are also under-represented in receiving preventative supports such as housing needs, financial benefits that is required to address any family needs and improve children welfare. For many years social work interventions with black African families and children alleged of child abuse cases have been a controversial topic.
On the contrary Singh (2006) maintains the view that African families and their entrenched cultural and social perceptions of parenting behaviours is difficult to understand in the context of contemporary social work practice and therefore social workers may intervene unnecessarily in such families. The potential consequences of this misunderstanding among social workers working with black African families could lead to unnecessary investigation of these families under the child protection system and eventually the children may be admitted to local authority care. Sometimes social workers may hesitate to make intervention into child abuse cases with black African families due to poor understanding of whether certain parenting behaviours are really an abuse or not (Bernard & Gupta, 2006). This misconception may result into inappropriate or no intervention by social workers working with black children who are at risk of significant harm, and children may continue to be harmed or even die. This has been highlighted by the tragic deaths of two African children: Victoria Climbié (Laming, 2003) and the young boy known as Adam, whose torso was found floating in the River Thames (Sale, 2005).
Bernard & Gupta (2006) found in their research work that majority of black African families who are living in the UK as a result of war, poverty, and tribal anarchies in their home countries have difficulty not only how to adapt to the western culture they find themselves but how they may be viewed by social workers involved in child care. Most social work professionals working with black African families tend not to appreciate the poverty background of such families and would feel justified to make negative judgements resulting into mistrust and disengagement from both parties. Although the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families (Department of Health, 2000) places a requirement on social workers to consider families’ backgrounds and cultural perspectives when dealing with cases of child abuse.
The issue of poverty among many black African families living in the UK is a challenging issue for many social work professionals responsible for safeguarding and protecting vulnerable children from abuse, as it affect how parents raise their children. Moreover, as explained by Korbin (2004), difficulties in social work intervention in child abuse cases may arise, because the processes involved in child abuse assessment may be complex and parental behaviours may not be the same in different cultures and socio-economic settings.
In view of this perception, Platt (2005) states that ‘child abuse within ethnic minority, which include Africans, can risk stereotyping this ethnic minority as deficient, thus fostering pathological viewpoint of African family relationships’. This raises the question of what type of social work intervention need to be deployed by social workers working with black African families living in economic poverty so that vulnerable children are fully protected, and not just drawing these children into the child protection system. This professional dilemma among social workers possess a major challenge and therefore, calls for a new perspective in terms of skills, knowledge, training and conceptual tools to help distinguish between the styles of parenting inherent in African families living in poverty which is not necessarily harmful to the children, but at the same time safeguarding and protecting children from parenting behaviours that put children at significant risk.
The dissertation built its theoretical framework on social work theory, policy and practice and uses key conceptual framework from the socio-contextual approaches to intervention. The main emphasis of this dissertation looks at the available literature on black African families involved in the child protection system, focusing on specific poverty-related parenting practices that give rise to issues of child abuse. The methodology for this work was mainly qualitative and the available literature has been obtained from primary and secondary sources.
The dissertation touches on various issues regarding how social work professionals need to perceive and handle child abuse cases among black African families, who are living in poverty and thus to provide appropriate interventions that would help these families provide adequate child-care to their children.
The first chapter provides literature on black African children and the child protection system. Chapter two provides a discussion on the increased complexity of social work intervention in child abuse cases involving black African families living in poverty. It continues to analyse how poverty could cultivate a particular parenting behaviours that impact on the quality of children upbringing which, could be drawing black African children living in the UK into the child protection arena. Then chapter three draws on legislations and policies regulating social work practices in the UK. It also examines contemporary social work practice in child abuse cases among African families. Chapter four critical analyse the various methods of interventions available to social workers when working with black African families. Finally chapter five discusses the implications of social work intervention made by social work professionals among African families living in poverty.