Social work, adoption and raising the profile within the Black community
My name is Bernadette Heron and I am a senior social worker in the Adoption Team at Buckinghamshire Council.
My interest in social work began back in 1995. I was working in IT for an International banking firm. I didn’t find it all that rewarding and was keen to at least experience something different. I vividly remember watching Children in Need and becoming quite emotional hearing the stories, and the hardship other families had faced.
My journey to where I am today initially began when I expressed an interest in fostering after reading children’s stories in the black tabloid ‘The Voice’. The article highlighted profiles of children that were looking for foster homes. It gave a brief overview of fostering, and the lived experiences of these children. The profiles detailed what the children needed. At that point I already had two children of my own, but felt compelled to give something back, especially as we enjoyed parenting and believed we could meet the needs of another child, giving them a much-needed happy home.
I plucked up the courage and made the call. I was struck by how quickly the social workers responded to me and we started the ball rolling through the fostering process. I had seen the profile of a child in The Voice and was particularly interested, however the social workers discussed another child that would match our family, that had been in the system and waiting for a family for a very long time. I was told that the assessment would be fast-tracked to allow them to join our family, which is certainly what happened. It was an inner London Authority and I was pleased that my assessing social worker was a black woman. I felt comfortable as we didn’t have to ‘over explain’ some of the information shared as part of our application, as she understood our values and traditions coming from a similar cultural background. I didn’t fully appreciate at the time how important that is for prospective foster carers or adopters. Most of the team around us were Black workers, as a family we felt valued, relaxed, and comfortable.
Following my experience as a foster carer, I realised that my passion was working with children and not money! I contacted my local council and asked for some voluntary work at the local children’s residential home. They told me they could do one better and offered me a role paying just over £5 an hour. That was the beginning of my career in social work. My drive was always to ‘find homes for children’, although I have been fortunate to gain experience in a variety of different teams and worked extensively as a children’s guardian myself. I was always drawn to fostering and adoption.
I have been working in the Adoption Team for Buckinghamshire Council since April 2018. The attention to the needs of children, and the different therapeutic approaches that the social workers use to support, recruit and assess is amazing! I am immensely proud to be part of this team.
In my role as an adoption social worker, I have always been struck at the number of Black children in the care system and the lack of Black adopters. The data in the Adopted and Looked-after Children government report tells us that despite Black children only making up 5% of the general population, they make up 8% of children in care. This has always been of particular interest to me since working for PACT (Parents and Children Together) in what was then their Black Families project. The interest also extended into my area of research for my dissertation.
Within my role at the council, I have felt empowered and comfortable enough to question practices, to see if we as social workers could do more to raise the awareness within the Black community. My managers have always been open for me to develop this area and we launched our first ‘It Takes a village’ event in 2020, before then collaborating with Slough Borough Council in 2021 as part of an event to celebrate Black history month. Alongside this, we have also developed training for adopters that wish to care for a child of a different ethnicity. These are all small steps with the aim of making a big difference!
It is not unheard of that extended families helped to care for and sometimes take on the care of children that were not their birth children in Africa and the Caribbean. Many Black people will tell you that they have been raised by someone that is not their birth parent. For this reason, fostering and adoption is not out of the realms of possibility for many Black families. They just need to know about the opportunities open to them!
Culturally, Black communities are known to support children, emotionally, practically, spiritually, and financially. This is well known in our community. My aim is to ensure that the Black community in Buckinghamshire are aware of the difference they could make to our children in care. We need them! Please spread the word with your friends, neighbours, and colleagues, and if anyone is interested in finding out more — please get in touch!