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1.6.3 Sustaining Partnerships with Ethnic Minority Families


This chapter was amended throughout in March 2019 and requires practitioners involved in families that have different cultures from their own, to ensure assumptions are not made and to listen to what is being reflected to them, ensuring that they are nor judgmental nor ‘second guess’ individual’s cultural practice. Practitioners need to be able to engage with children and families in ways which value people’s identity, experience, expertise and self-determination.


  1. Introduction
  2. Partnership
  3. Conclusion

1. Introduction

Bolton has a population of approximately 264,000 people. Children and young people account for 27% of the population of which 10% are of primary school age. Just over 1 in 10 (11%) of people in Bolton consider themselves to be from a minority community.

The black and minority ethnic population in Bolton has a very young age profile, with a third (32.5%) aged under 16. For the whole age band 0-18 in the Borough, 17% are from minority ethnic communities compared to 11% in the general population.

The vast majority of staff in the child protection system are drawn from the indigenous community. Some of those staff have expressed a considerable lack of knowledge and confidence in working in child-care within ethnic minority communities. Government policy aims to ensure that the needs of vulnerable minority ethnic children and families are identified and met by provision of adequate and appropriate social care services. This guide seeks to help those staff by offering information about difference from the minority groups perspective and brief information to aid assessments. However, this guide is not meant to replace the need for training and consultation on issues of race and child protection.

When working in partnership with families, children and caretakers, there are certain key commonalities between all communities. All communities value and love their children. All communities want to teach their children how to participate and prosper in the world.

The United Nations convention on the rights of the child also tells us that there are needs that are held in common by children all over the world. These are the provision of basic needs (food, warmth, shelter), the protection from abuse and exploitation and participation - the right to a say in what happens to them. Unfortunately, because of the difference of power between children and their caretakers, all communities have the potential for serious abuse to be perpetrated against children by their caretakers and as such, no single community can be regarded as immune in this respect.

When working in partnership with families from ethnic minority communities it is important to remember the differences as well as the commonalities in child-rearing and family life in general. There are significant cultural differences and to be ‘culturally competence’, workers need to be able to engage with children and families in ways which value people’s identity, experience, expertise and self-determination. These needs are not considered as 'special' or more but 'different'. If the practitioner is to make a real partnership that leads to positive work it is important to be able to understand the world from the others perspective.

2. Partnership

When forming partnerships with children, parents or families we make unconscious presumptions that they will behave and think in the same way that we do. This can be a mistaken assumption with all clients, but with children and families from ethnic minority communities there are specific issues that make this assumption even more likely to be incorrect.

It needs to be noted that ethnic minority communities, particularly families from the South Asian sub continent derive their influences and practices from religion, cultural traditions, long standing family values, 'sister' communities and family beliefs.

The key issues outlined below are by no means a complete list and there are various specific issues such as learning disability and mental health in the family which could distort and further complicate any partnership between the family and the practitioner. In such instances, help from the appropriate section of the agency should be considered and enlisted.

Organisation's Relationships with Statutory Agencies

Sometimes poor relationships with the ethnic minority communities will be reflected in their relationship with the child protection system. Services and service providers, both locally and nationally need to do much more to understand, liaise, work with and appreciate the varying needs of the ethnic minority communities to create a better working relationship between families and services. Due to this lack of understanding, it has created a poor take up of services from ethnic minority communities and because of this, the child protection system may be perceived as being even more controlling and more intensive than normal. In order to further improve the relationships with the communities, the organisation needs to:

  • Not to be judgemental or second guess people’s cultural practices;
  • Maintain awareness about national and local ethnic, social and religious demographics and how they are changing;
  • Ask families about their views, beliefs and practices, reading and questioning, discussing with specialists and talking to others from range of cultural groups.

It is important to use power in a sensitive anti-oppressive way.

The 'Large Family' Concept

In some Western societies large families can be seen as a burden, and automatically a sign of neediness and poverty. However in some ethnic minority communities, large families can be viewed as a positive blessing, a highly desirable asset.

Please remember 'large' is a relative concept and large is usually positive. Varying family members will have specific roles within the family; this includes those living in the family home, extended family members for example, older siblings, aunts, uncles, grandparents; all may have specific roles dependant on gender and age of child/young person.

Different Patterns of Parenting

In the host community in Britain we have become accustomed to dealing with the nuclear or focused style of parenting - with one or two persons being responsible for the care of children. However, some ethnic minority communities employ a different style of parenting which can be termed co-operative parenting. The co-operative model of parenting involves sharing the parenting task between a wide group of adults in the family. This co-operative style of parenting can be exaggerated by the demands of being an immigrant family where extended family support network is not available.

The child protection system has been criticised for being too focused on one, female carer and is completely unprepared for the task of including a co-operative model of parenting.

Try to find out which parenting model is being used, who is involved, who does the most caring, who is the most influential in deciding the style of that parenting.

Individual Rights -v- Family Rights

In some Western communities the balance of rights between the individual and their families can be weighted in favour of the individual. The whole child protection system is based on an implicit understanding of the separate needs of the child. On the other hand, in some ethnic minority communities, although the individual does have rights, these can be secondary to the needs/rights of the wider family. The notion of family honour and respect plays a significant part in some families; the behavioural impact, particularly of a female be it young person, wife, sister or wife, will influence how the family functions. The emphasis is not on an individual’s right but the responsibility of an individual. Stresses within such families heightens if the behaviour and responsibilities of such family members extends outside of the agreed principles within the family.

Please do not presume that the family is working with the same perception of the individual child's rights as your own.

Blood and Marital Ties

In some communities in Britain, the concept of the strength of blood and marital relationships may have become weakened during the last century. Divorce, re-marriage, step-parenting, loss of contact with natural parent/children, fostering and adoption, increased power and expectations of women partners and children, have all contributed to this process. It should be remembered that in some ethnic minority communities, the family ties of blood and marriage are seen as being extremely strong if not paramount. However, while on the whole strong family ties are seen as positive, assessments will need to determine if the stresses in the family are related to such relations as some marriages are conducted for ‘convenience’ reasons. For example to keep land, family ties, property and inheritance within the family where the elders of the family have agreed such marriages and the marrying couple may not have had a free and consensual choice.

Please ensure family functioning and dynamics form part of any high level assessments and establish how strong these ties are in this particular family and community.

The Recreation of Home Life

Most ethnic minority communities, no matter where they are situated, will attempt to recreate the social region and cultural reality of their home community. This is a natural and positive process in most circumstances. However, there are some families that will import negative issues. These will become apparent in a well structured assessment and must be understood by the practitioners attempting to make partnerships with families.

Try to establish why the negative issues are being created and what purpose does it fulfil ?

Help from Home

Most ethnic minority communities retain strong links with their home community. At times of difficulty or crisis, it is perfectly natural for individuals, families or even whole communities to ask for, and receive help from 'home'.

Include this help from home in your plans for partnership.

Official/Unofficial Rules

In all communities, it is not sufficient to know the 'official' rules of behaviour within the community. Individuals, families and communities will have established their own unofficial rules of how they will behave. Do not assume that all ethnic minority families have same rules and boundaries as this will depend on what factors influence their family functioning, for example, religion, culture, traditions of elders or adapting a broader westernised lifestyle. These are often far more useful in working with families and predicting future behaviour.

Find out about the family's own rules for behaviour - how do these rules work in the family?

Environment and Life Skills

When working with parents and older people who were not born and brought up in their present environment, it is important to remember that their perceptions and life skills will have been formed in a completely different living situation. It can be very helpful to understand that different living situation and how that has influenced their current perception of their situation.

Discover and understand the context in which the person/family learnt their life skills.

Gender, Role and Power

We need to be aware that gender and power issues are relatively recent arrivals to the child protection practice agenda. These issues in their 'Western sense' are not ascribed as much importance in the ethnic minority communities. This is not to say that gender and power issues should be given any less significance, but that the complexities involved in their interaction must not be underestimated or misconstrued.

The practitioner must fully balance the issue of gender and power in attempting to work in partnership with the ethnic minority families by not only considering the restrictiveness of its own culture and traditions but also consider wider multiple-oppression which is prevalent in society at large.

The practitioner should therefore not only consider attempting to address the internal imbalances of gender and power but also facilitate changes in the external imbalances by accessing equitable distribution of services and facilities based on specific gender needs to empower these groups.

Obtain advice when operating in areas of gender and power within ethnic minority families and communities. These issues are very complex and subject to great variation.


Language plays a crucial role in how we think, understand, communicate and make plans and decisions. Even when we speak the 'same' language, potential for miscommunication and confusion is large and when participants in any process speak more than one language the possibility for misunderstanding and miscommunication is extremely high.

In child protection terms there are several stages in the language process where the potential for difficulty is substantial.

Thinking/conceptualisation: Language provides the parameters for how we think and conceptualise about a subject area. Because some minority communities have different ways of thinking about childhood and parenthood, language around these areas holds substantially different nuances than either 'professional' English or 'Bolton' English.

Understanding involves making sense of the communication of others. If there is a language divide, participants can:

  • Not have understood the communication at all, but are reluctant to indicate this (through politeness or apprehension);
  • The receiver of the communication may believe that they have fully understood, but have not appreciated what the message really means;
  • At one level the receiver of the communication may have understood in a literal sense what has been said, but not be able to fit it into their terms of reference;
  • Expressing is more difficult than understanding. It involves receiving the message, fully understanding its meaning and then being able to conceptualise and find the appropriate words for what we think and feel about it.

Achieving compromise: All partnership work involves practitioners, adults and children achieving positive compromises in their assessment and planning. But this can only be achieved at the end of a process of conceptualisation, understanding and expressing. Achieving compromise can be strongly effected by language issues.

Specialist vocabulary: All agencies in the child protection system hold their own specialist vocabulary. The child protection system itself has developed its own system of vocabulary. Even families with good grasp of day-to-day English may struggle to understand and use these words and concepts.

Language plays a crucial role in terms of evolving a positive partnership with families where everyone understands the direction, content and responsibility for the work. Some barriers to good communication may be overcome by use of trained and independent interpreters. Use of family members as interpreters is considered insensitive and often counterproductive.

Language, being the central pillar of culture and values, need to be given full regard when working in partnership with the children and families of ethnic minority communities. The strain in communications and partnership may appear, particularly, where the practitioner is from different linguistic background and when sensitive matters perhaps of an emotional nature have to be translated and understood.

Communicating in one's first language is very much preferred. However failing this, cultural and value loading in the language has to be fully acknowledged and endeavours made to establish voluntary written agreements in the language that the family can relate and readily understand.

Language, particularly when dealing with personal/family issues is a 'minefield' full of false assumptions. If you are in any doubt please get appropriate help.

Pluralistic Culture

Although we frequently use the term that we live in a multi-cultural and multi-faith society, this pluralism sometimes signifies that ethnic minority children should 'fit in'. The reality often is that the children from the ethnic minority communities operate between two languages and two sets of value systems, one in the home environment and the other in the wider society.

Children who are connected to services such as education, would readily derive the value system of the majority and yet in their own home environment may equally adjust to the value system prevalent there. This certainly gives them an identity that is unique in plurality but it is also splintered and remains constrained by the attitudes of the wider society. The partnerships model should take fully into account the issues of race, language, gender and identity so that alienation from home identity and disempowerment is avoided.

3. Conclusion

Delivering an effective child protection service is not an easy task in itself, but delivering that service across boundaries of race, culture and class is even more difficult. However this is a task which is essential.

Do not become isolated in this task, seek out appropriate assistance from colleagues and workers in other agencies.