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George Floyd: Going even further to ensure change

A message from Oliver Kirkland - Registered Manager talking about the tragic death of George Floyd and suggesting how we might learn from this as an organisation and as people.

Oliver Kirkland
Registered Manager
June 9 2020 - 7 min read

A message from Oliver Kirkland - Registered Manager

I felt it was appropriate, indeed necessary, for me to acknowledge the tragic and horrifying death of George Floyd – the 46 year old black man whose death at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis on 25th May has sparked worldwide revulsion and protests – and to suggest how we might learn from this as an organisation and as people.

There will be those of you who will feel that Fostering People should have responded quicker to this tragedy and I appreciate why. However, I think there is a danger of organisations ‘hi-jacking’ world events such as this one for their own benefit and I wanted to make sure that anything we said as an agency had meaning and resonance, rather than for it to be a ‘virtue-signalling’ photo-opportunity. I do hope that everyone reading this appreciates why what I say needs to be said.

The professional standards of Social Work England require me and my social work colleagues to: ‘Recognise differences across diverse communities and challenge the impact of disadvantage and discrimination on people and their families and communities; Promote social justice, helping to confront and resolve issues of inequality and inclusion; Recognise and use responsibly, the power and authority I have when working with people, ensuring that my interventions are always necessary, the least intrusive, proportionate, and in people’s best interests.’

Furthermore, you will all be familiar with the values embedded within the TSD Standards, which foster parents are required to understand and promote: ‘The needs, rights and views of the child or young person are at the centre of all practice and provision. Individuality, difference and diversity are valued and celebrated. Equality of opportunity and anti-discriminatory practice are actively promoted. Children and young people’s health and well-being are actively promoted. Self-esteem and resilience are recognised as essential to every child and young person’s development. Social inclusion and advancement of children and young people are actively promoted as specified in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.’

Shocking events like the death of George Floyd trigger strong reactions in all of us as we try and get our heads round how we live in a world where one human being can behave in such a way towards another. They also trigger a broader response in a lot of people as they also try to make sense of the wider social and cultural context in which something as awful as this can happen.

For some of you, terms such as ‘systemic (or institutional) racism’, ‘white privilege’, ‘microaggressions’ will be part of your day-to-day lived experience. For others, they will be concepts that you have tried to develop an understanding of and begun to address in your own life and behaviour. For others, they might be entirely new, and spark feelings of discomfort, or even resentment in you. If you do fall into the second or third groups, I hope this is an important opportunity to reflect further on your thoughts and feelings, not only for your own personal development, but also for the benefit of the children you care for and society as a whole. As human beings, we have a natural inclination to respond to events like this with ‘yes, but…’ (I know I can be guilty of this at times). This is one of those times when I think we need to put those instincts to one side and actually take on board what someone we might not always agree with is saying.

At the beginning of the year, I came across a series of really interesting articles in Metro that explored themes around identity, attitudes, and racism in the UK in 2020. I felt these were written in an accessible and informative style that avoided lecturing or ‘guilt-tripping’ their readership. I did share these with staff across the services, but not directly with fostering families; I will do so now in the hope that you find them as helpful as I did:

One line that stood out for me across the articles was: ‘Being anti-racist means actively doing the work to challenge racism, not acting defensively when confronted with it, and passing on the message.’ This could particularly apply to those responding to the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement with seemingly inoffensive but very misjudged comments to the effect that ‘All Lives Matter’. I saw a beautiful photo on social media a few days ago, which I think said everything about this that needed to be said:

"We said - Black Lives Matter

Never said - Only Black Lives Matter

We know - All Lives Matter

We just need YOUR HELP with Black Lives Matter

For Black Lives are in DANGER!"

I am very conscious about the impact on our children of the death of George Floyd and the reactions to it around the world. My own 11 year old son was so affected by George Floyd’s death and what it said to him about other people’s experiences and the privilege of his own life, that he couldn’t sleep for two consecutive nights last week. This suggests to me that many of the children in your care will have reacted in a similar manner. If those children are of Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic heritage, I can only speculate as to how they will have been affected.

For this reason, I felt it would be very helpful to share with you some resources around talking to children and helping them to understand and make sense of George Floyd’s death. Our CEO, Jo August, posted a really helpful video at the end of last week of 2 psychologists from the Child Mind Institute – Kenya Hameed and Jamie Howard – talking specifically about how to talk to children about this tragedy. In our Management Meeting on Friday, we took time out to watch the video together and found it immensely powerful. I would urge you all to do the same over the next few days when you get the opportunity.

There are a huge number of additional articles – written and videos – on line that you might find helpful. This is a brief interview Lorraine Kelly did with campaigner Ria Hebden on Good Morning Britain last week:

And here are 3 more articles from quite different publications and sources that I found informative and useful for a variety of reasons:

Going even further...

As an agency, Fostering People prides itself on changing children’s lives together. As staff and fostering families, we believe have a very positive attitude towards diversity and challenging discrimination. However, I know that I have a long way to go as an individual and that we have much to do as an organisation; this is not a journey with an ultimate destination. We can never feel that we have achieved our objectives while events such as the death of George Floyd are still happening in the USA, as well as the UK.

We will use this as an opportunity to look at our practice more rigorously to ensure that we better serve all of our BAME children, families and staff, as well as those from other groups who face prejudice and discrimination.