The killing of George Floyd in the USA – just one horrific incident in a long series of similar events - has jolted the world into a new understanding of institutional racism. In the UK we are facing a reckoning with our own history of slavery and our present injustices – from entrenched inequality to deep-rooted prejudice.
Like many individuals and organisations, we have taken a long hard look in the mirror over the last few weeks to examine our culture, practices and policies.
Barnardo’s values include ‘respecting the unique worth of every individual’ but we need to ask ourselves how well we live up to this. This starts with understanding the part our charity has played in the structural racism that still exists in our society.
We cannot escape the reality of our heritage and our roots in an era shortly after the abolition of slavery and at the height of British colonialism. This means Barnardo’s may well have received significant donations from families involved in slavery.
From our very beginnings in the 19th Century, Barnardo’s supported Black children when many other organisations would have excluded them, although at that time little consideration was given to their cultural needs or the effect of racism. But we’ve moved on from those days of a ‘colour blind’ approach and since at least the 1960’s Barnardo’s has made efforts to understand and address the specific cultural needs of BAME* children in order to support them more effectively.
However, it is clear that our progress on this should have been faster. We need to do more.
All children are vulnerable, but those who cannot trust or engage with the institutions that are supposed to protect and serve them, without fear of being misunderstood or harmed, are perhaps the most vulnerable of all. In particular the systemic and institutionalised racism in this country means Black children are more likely to experience poverty, have poorer educational outcomes, be excluded from school, be unemployed, and be stopped and searched in an institutional response to knife crime that discriminates against young Black men. Black children are also more likely to act as carers for ill and disabled family members too. And where a White child might be seen as having special educational needs or experiencing challenges at home, a Black child with the same behaviour might be labelled as ‘naughty’ or ‘aggressive’.
Like many organisations, Barnardo’s has tried hard to ensure the fundamental principles of equality, diversity and inclusion run through everything we do, both in our communities and in our workplaces. Diversity is built into the very heart of our 10 year Corporate Strategy; Black and other BAME colleagues are supported through our Race Equality Network; we are embedding a cultural message that asserts it is everyone’s duty to promote equality and inclusion across Barnardo’s – “no ifs, no buts, no excuses” – and our anonymous whistleblowing procedure means anyone who thinks we’re not living up to this can make a complaint and it will be investigated.
We actively recruit people from diverse backgrounds, using anonymised recruitment tools, and seek to create a workforce that is representative of the communities we support, so we can connect directly with our children and young people, sharing their lived experience and responding to their needs.
Despite all of this, there is more we can and must do to support our Black colleagues and service users. We must now stand up and be counted as an anti-racist charity that will weed out racism within - and use its influence to call out racism in wider society.
Words are never enough, which is why we have published a set of commitments to our staff and volunteers, and our service users. These are clear actions against which we will be held to account.
Barnardo’s is far from perfect, but we are learning. At the heart of our culture we cherish our core values - respecting the unique worth of every person, encouraging people to fulfil their potential, and working with hope. Our hope for a better future for all children is the source of our inspiration.
We cannot achieve this ambition if Black and minority ethnic children continue to be held back by systemic racism. Across 1,000 services, in the four nations of the UK, and in our work reaching 300,000 children, young people, parents and carers each year, we will seek out, call out and help root out structural racism wherever we encounter it. We will be the change we are committed to seeing in the world.
That is our promise.
1. Our learning
Over the next year, beginning with our Corporate Leadership Group and Board of Trustees, we will educate ourselves to understand how we need to change what we do, personally and as a whole charity, to remove and prevent racism in all its forms wherever it exists.
We will listen to our colleagues who identify as BAME* and respond on key issues affecting their confidence in us as an employer that is truly committed to tackling anti-racism.
Our senior leaders will host regular webinars and surveys on relevant topics, and there will be safe spaces for BAME colleagues and other groups with protected characteristics to come together, as well as other forms of support these groups tell us they need.
2. Our workforce
We will continue to increase the racial and wider diversity of our leadership and workforce.
To aid this we will introduce a ‘license to recruit’ by September 2020, and from 2021, no colleague to sit on any appointment panel without this. We will also publish an annual Workforce Diversity Analysis and an annual Ethnicity Pay Gap Analysis, which will include analysis by race.
3. Driving social change
We will set up a bespoke BAME Fund which will be used to address the structural inequalities faced by BAME children and young people.
Drawing on evidence from the BAME children, young people and families we support, we will ensure our services meet their needs, and that their views and experiences are understood by decision makers. We will use our voice and influence to be a force for anti-racism within Barnardo’s and wherever we can across the society we serve.
We will conduct an audit of our suppliers, philanthropists, funders and partners to ensure they are committed to being actively anti-racist.
*We know that colleagues may choose to identify themselves in different ways, including as Black, Brown, BAME, as ‘people of colour’ and/or as members of Global South Communities. These commitments support all Barnardo’s colleagues and service users who experience racism.