Children and Youth Services Review

Rationale behind the Study

The proposed research will investigate Social Service interventions for looked after West African children in South London. I work in an ethically diverse comprehensive school in London, and have witnessed an increase in minority ethnic looked after children in recent years. One challenging task for Social Services is to provide interventions for such children. This study aims to investigate the effect of Social Services interventions on West African looked after children, and provide suggestions why such children may be taken in to care by drawing on existing models of parenting. Furthermore, supplemented by a review of relevant published literature, it will suggest a number of factors which may account for any disproportionality in terms of gender. The final element of the research will take a critical look at how the school environment supports looked after children.

Insignificant data are available on the experiences of immigrants and ethnic minorities in post-war Europe, which is referred to as a ”puzzling and disturbing silence” (Myers, 2009:). Bryan (2009) exclaimed that whilst immigration has contributed to economic, social, and political changes, there is an enormous paucity of published research on the topic. The sparse literature that is available is limited to descriptive accounts of policies designed to increase integration (Myers, 2009). In the UK, such lack of research hinders our understanding of the relative importance of education for immigrants and their children. Little is known about how well immigrants and their children settle in to their new environment, let alone how effectively education meets their needs. It has been noted that the changes in policy are based on empirical evidence, and as a result, the resultant policy does not addressing the most important issue; the promotion of multi-culturalism. Sociologist Paul Gilroy commented on an urgent need to “step boldly back into the past, discover the boundaries of the postcolonial present, and enlist Europe’s largely untapped heterological and imperial histories in the urgent service of its Contemporary multicultural and its future pluralism” (Gilroy, quoted in Myers, 2009: 15). Furthermore, because of the limited research on the issues surrounding immigration, ethnic minority communities have been conceived as a social problem, to be solved via policies with the aim of integration (Myers, 2009). Bryan (2009) suggests such well intentioned but poorly conceived policies may actually perpetuate inequality.

In this context, it is clear that policies and interventions must be based on a clear understanding of those they purport to support, and it is this rationale that underpins this study. Barn (2006) noted that the capacity of social workers to deliver appropriate, ethnically sensitive services which take adequate account of the circumstances of minority ethnic individuals and families remains a crucial challenge. When considering interventions delivered to West African looked after children by Social Services in the UK, the following should be considered; what are the reasons behind West African children becoming ‘looked after’ and are the interventions designed to support them effective?

Guiding Research Questions

Research question 1

• What are the reasons a disproportionate number of children from West Africa are becoming ‘looked after’ by Social Services in the UK?
Research question 2

• With reference to existing models of parents, what is happening in the African communities that may contribute to this?

• Are any variations by gender evident, and if so, what might the reasons behind them?
Research question 3What are the effects of the interventions on the welfare of the looked after children from West Africa

Research question 4Are such interventions moderated by the school environment

Benefits of the Research

This research may be useful to a number of different stakeholders in education. From the literature review, the need for culturally sensitive research into social service interventions in school is evident. In the field of education, there has been a call for culturally sensitive interventions to help the school (senior leadership team, child protection officers, form tutors, mentors and teachers) better understand the needs of black children from West Africa and support them accordingly. Copies of the research may be used by the local council/government as a case study for further research into services provided and an opportunity to evaluate current practice and develop strategies to provide better services. The research may enable all stakeholders (social services, schools, government, and local services) to understand parents of West African origin, especially with regard to cultural beliefs, and develop strategies to work together with parents amicably on how to educate children. Finally, this research can give the government, social services, parents, and students an increased awareness of good practice and failings in the system

Methods and Procedures

My research is a small-scale study, focusing on looked after children from West Africa in Conisborough College. Conisborough College is a comprehensive school with a highly diverse intake. It is representative of the ethnic mix of the Lewisham borough, with a high intake of black pupils of West African origin. The sampling method chosen, which I believe is best suited for my small-scale study, is a non-probability method, such as a targeted sampling method. This method of sampling will ensure that the study is focused and well managed (Bell, 2005).

The proposed study will be approached from an interpretivist, epistemological perspective conducted in three stages. Firstly, an extensive literature review, including national government reports and data, and local government (Lewisham Council) reports and data. This stage will also review social service reports and data on looked after children, reviews of at-risk children, child protection registers and analyses of online exam reports and school-tracking data. The second stage will focus on field research in the form of targeted semi-structured interviews which will be conducted at Conisborough College with learning mentors, child protection officers, school counsellors, form tutors, and head of years who support looked after children as well as two social workers and LEA child protection officers. In the broader community, pastor/community leaders of West African origin will be interviewed. The final stage of this study will collate and analyse all data and draw inferences from the findings on future programmes in the school and community at large, in order to generate a number of recommendations..

I intend to pilot the second stage of the study to determine what works and what does not. As an amateur researcher, I will follow the procedure established by Peat et al. (2002) which will give me advance warning as whether to proceed with the research, revise the research, or abandon this section of the research altogether. My research is small scale, so the pilot study will involve one student, one learning mentor, and one head of year. Following Peat et al.’s (2002: 123) process, I will:

Provide participants with a Participant Information Form and consent form, taking care to explain the purpose and process of the research.
Following this, I will identify and areas regarding ethical approval not already adequately covered in the research protocol.
Complete the interview schedule with each pilot respondent. Following completion I will ask respondents for feedback regarding ambiguous, sensitive or difficult questions.
Transcribe and review each pilot interview fully, discarding any unnecessary, difficult, repetitive or ambiguous questions.
Reorder interview items if necessary to ensure a coherent and engaging schedule.
Time both the conduct and transcription of the interviews to determine whether both tasks are reasonable given the timescale of the research.

Once this pilot work has been completed, I can be confident that the interview schedule(s) are fir for the purpose of this study.


Barn, R. (2006) Research and Practice Briefings: Children and Families – Improving

services to meet the needs of minority ethnic children and families, DfES,

Bryan, A. (2009). The intersectionality of nationalism and multiculturalism in the Irish curriculum: Teaching against racismRace ethnicity and education, 12(3), 297-317.

Myers, P. (2009). Immigrants and ethnic minorities in the history of education. Paedagogica Historica: International Journal of the History of Education, 46(6), 801 – 816.

Peat, J., Mellis, C., Williams, K. and Xuan W. (2002), Health Science Research: A

Handbook of Quantitative Methods, London: Sage.

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