Letter: The shibboleths in social work training

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The Independent Online
Sir: I agree with Yasmin Alibhai- Brown that institutional racism is a reality ('Social workers need race training, not hysteria', 11 August), but social work training does include a number of potentially dangerous shibboleths. One of these is the de rigueur use of the term 'black' to include all non-white people.

It is doubtful whether most of their clients use the term in this sense - in a recent survey of 15- and 16-year-olds we found that only a third of young people of Afro-Caribbean origin and 15 per cent of those who were white used the term to include Asians. More important, the lack of differentiation in the term can hinder understanding. Ms Alibhai-Brown, for example, states that 'the disproportionate numbers of black children in care . . . make training crucial to ensure that it is not racism which is putting them into these institutions'.

In fact, children of mixed origin, the great majority of whom live with single white mothers, are greatly over-represented in care, children with two parents of African and Afro-Caribbean origin are much less over-represented, if at all (the evidence is conflicting), while children of Asian origin are greatly under-represented.

These particularities suggest that whatever harm racism causes to other aspects of their lives, it does not play a leading role in bringing children into care, and social work students should not be encouraged to substitute blanket terms for more careful analysis.

Yours faithfully,


Institute of Education

University of London

London, WC1

12 August