An open letter from Baroness Floella Benjamin – Vice President of Barnardo’s

Published on
30 October 2023

I've often said “childhood lasts a lifetime” which is something I truly believe. So all children, especially those in care, need to be nurtured, shown consideration and unconditional love.

But new research from the UK’s largest children’s charity, Barnardo’s, shows that Black children in care are often not having this experience and many are having to face traumatic adversity.

The charity’s report, Double Discrimination, highlights how young Black people in this country, particularly those who have been in care, experience racism, exclusion and isolation throughout their lives.
Shockingly, almost 1 in 10 Black children in care receive a custodial sentence by the time they turn 18.

Barnardo’s conducted one-to-one interviews with 22 Black young people who were currently serving custodial sentences in England. Their findings were stark, though sadly not particularly surprising.

Those young people talked about how they had experienced racism from an early age, with unnecessary police involvement and low expectations from adults around them. When they were resettled during their time in the care system, decisions rarely took into account their individual needs or wider cultural considerations.

Later in life, when they came into contact with the criminal justice system, their experience of being in care was rarely understood. Many of these children had faced significant trauma in their early lives. How can it be right that this isn’t taken into consideration by the police or courts?
Failure to recognise these factors mean that young Black people in care are facing discrimination on not one, but two fronts. Society is failing them once because they’re Black and then again because they’re in care.

This needs to change.

To highlight this worrying issue during Black History Month, I led a Parliamentary roundtable discussion about the findings of this report on 17 October, getting decision makers and experts around the table including, the Rt Hon Damian Hinds MP, Minister of State for Prisons and Probation, Baroness Lawrence OBE and Lord Michael Hastings. Together with Barnardo’s, I’m calling for a number of improvements to the system.

Firstly, we must improve the experiences of Black children in foster care. The Department for Education needs to develop and fund a Black Foster Care Network, to help grow the number of foster carers who understand Black children’s needs.

It is imperative that we also stop criminalising children in care unnecessarily and improve access to mental health support. That is particularly important for Black children in care, who are even more likely to be in custody, with emphasis on how this can be delivered in a way that takes their specific needs into account.

We also need to improve understanding of the needs of children in care and those who have experienced being in care. Training could and should be delivered to agencies like the police, courts and prisons, to help address discrimination and stereotyping.

Finally, we need renewed emphasis on tackling racial bias within the criminal justice system. A number of recommendations were made by David Lammy’s 2017 independent review into the treatment of Black, Asian and minority ethnic individuals in the criminal justice system. We deserve an update on how these recommendations are progressing.
This report from Barnardo’s highlights in no uncertain terms that we need to do more to help our Black children and young people. Without intervention, we’ll continue on this depressing conveyor belt in which young Black children face untold trauma, are taken into care, become susceptible to exploitation and criminal activity and then enter the criminal justice system.

It is simply not acceptable that as a society we continue to write off a whole group of children, just because of their background and circumstances. All children, including Black children in care, deserve the chance to overcome the challenges they face and work towards a brighter future. We can, and must, do better.