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The importance of celebrating diversity

My name can be a bit of a give-away, and if your assumption was that I have a non-UK heritage you would be correct – but I do consider myself to be British, although not just British. Thankfully, I’m now rarely asked to provide my ‘Christian’ name and people generally no longer ask me where I come from either. But as a child and younger adult, questions and assumptions such as these had the consequence of making me feel somehow ‘other’ from the mainstream of society. As a child, I often didn’t feel like I really belonged and there were not many role models I could look up to who had a similar background to me – especially given that I am of dual heritage. When you don’t see your identity out there, and people casually assume that you’re not one of them, you start to seek identity elsewhere. For some that can lead to negative or destructive identities and this is something that concerns me as increasingly xenophobia appears to be more prevalent in popular media.

The racism that I experienced when I was younger – the National Front, the language of ‘half-caste’, golliwogs and ‘Mind your Language’ might have changed, but unfortunately bias and racism still exists and the experience of some of our citizens does worry me. Young Muslims for example, who can be made to feel as not legitimately British, may come to self-identify themselves as such. This cannot be right. Eighteen months ago in Brighton & Hove we published a Serious Case Review following the deaths of two young brothers and their friend in Syria. Amongst other things this identified historic racism that together with the trauma of long-term domestic abuse contributed to the boys feeling unconnected with their local community. This review was a warning to the city, but cases like this must serve as a wider warning to our country as a whole that we need to celebrate diversity, be more inclusive of difference and more aware of the trauma that some of our young people might have experienced. We also need to be better at reaching out.

As a director of children’s services I don’t have the power to change society but I do have the advantage of being able to address some of the symptoms. I’m pleased that in Brighton & Hove we still have an ethnic minority achievement service that is bought back by most of our schools and is able to provide both initial support to children and families and on-going advice and support to schools. This team is particularly helpful in supporting some of our refugee families.

Local authorities are working hard to recruit a workforce that reflects the communities they serve, however, our social workers are mainly White British, yet they are increasingly working with more minority ethnic children, young people and families. The risk of unconscious bias increases and so, in Brighton and Hove, we are about to carry out a thematic audit to ensure that, if this does happen, such cases are appropriately managed.

I’m really pleased with the growing diversity of the city, but I recognise that our staff do not yet fully reflect this. We are therefore trying to be creative in how we can both attract a more diverse workforce and also support minority ethic staff to reach more senior positions. Unfortunately, at a senior level in the Council we don’t have enough minority ethnic managers and leaders, or enough minority ethnic directors of children’s services across the country. We need to take collective responsibility to address this, because it is the right thing to do, to avoid losing talent and to ensure that children today who might consider themselves ‘other’ can find the role models they need to help them to find their place in our society.

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