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Safeguarding children who come from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities

Last updated: 25 Apr 2022

Establishing anti-racist and anti-discriminatory practices in social work

This information is aimed at practitioners, but is also helpful for anyone working or volunteering with children and young people from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities.

Many children and young people who come from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities experience racism, bias, stereotyping or cultural misunderstanding as they grow up. It might happen at an individual, institutional or societal level and might be displayed consciously or unconsciously.

This can result in some children being more likely to come to the attention of child protection services, while other children are less likely to receive effective support (Nuffield Foundation, 2020).

When we talk about people from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities we’re referring to a wide range of people from a variety of backgrounds with different individual experiences, including different experiences of racism. This includes groups such as Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities.

To make sure children from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities get the help and support they need, the adults working or volunteering with them and their families need to:

  • understand the challenges they face
  • build trusting relationships
  • take appropriate action to help keep children safe
  • use a strength-based approach to empower parents and carers from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities to take steps to keep their children safe.

We’ve pulled together learning from research evidence, case reviews and best practice guidance to help you mitigate racism and bias in your work with children and families from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities.

This includes information on:

  • bias and stereotypes
  • anti-discriminatory practice
  • communication and language barriers
  • engaging with communities
  • diversity, inclusion and empowerment in strategic decision making.
Racism, bias and stereotypes

Understanding racism, bias and stereotypes

Everyone has beliefs and prejudices about other people that are formed with or without our conscious awareness.

Unconscious bias might take the form of:

  • racist stereotypes
  • confirmation bias (seeking or favouring information that confirms your existing beliefs)
  • judging people according to first impressions.

This might result in people making harmful generalisations about specific communities, or generalising all ethnic minorities as having similar traits, practices and beliefs. This in turn is likely to result in children and families not receiving the appropriate level of support and protection.

Unconscious bias

If adults working or volunteering with children are unaware that they have unconscious bias or do not act to mitigate it, this may have a negative impact on their ability to identify and respond appropriately to child abuse (IICSA, 2020).

For example, practitioners may sometimes have preconceived concerns about whether a child’s parents or carers are legal immigrants (IICSA, 2020). By focusing on the parents’ residency rather than their child’s welfare, practitioners might not consider the lived experience of that child and miss indicators of abuse.

Unconscious bias might also lead practitioners to interpret behaviour differently depending on the ethnicity of the person displaying it. For instance, if a child from a Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities shows fear around a family member, this may be interpreted as a cultural expression of respect rather than an indicator of abuse (SCRA, 2017).

Practitioners might also have unconscious bias about who experiences different types of abuse, for example by connecting specific abuse types with specific groups of people. Without acknowledging and challenging these perceptions, practitioners might overlook the risk to children who do not fit the stereotype.


Adultification is a form of bias where children from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities are perceived as being more ‘streetwise’, more ‘grown up’, less innocent and less vulnerable than other children. This particularly affects Black children, who might be viewed primarily as a threat rather than as a child who needs support (Davis 2022; Davis and Marsh, 2020; Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, 2019).

Children who have been adultified might also be perceived as having more understanding of their actions and the consequences of their actions. For example, an analysis of case reviews found that practitioners assumed Black boys who were involved in gangs would be able to protect themselves from harm, even after they had been reported missing from home or care. This resulted in the practitioners not acting to protect the boys from sexual exploitation, youth violence and drug and alcohol misuse (Bernard and Harris, 2019).

Overlooking child protection concerns

Having conscious or unconscious bias can lead to professionals not taking child protection concerns about children from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities as seriously as they might do for children from other communities. Professionals might dismiss certain behaviours or practices as being part of that community’s culture and as a result not take the necessary protective action (IICSA, 2020).

Some practitioners might worry about being perceived as culturally insensitive or racist if they raise concerns about children in Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities. This can also lead to them ignoring child protection concerns (IICSA, 2020; SCRA, 2017). Because they are worried about stereotyping, some people might try not to acknowledge another person’s race or ethnicity. They might believe this helps them treat everyone equally. But this can result in practitioners applying a ‘universal’ approach to all families, without considering or finding out about parenting practices and beliefs in the child’s family and culture (SCRA, 2017). This can prevent practitioners from asking open questions about a child’s lived experiences, building up a picture of the child’s life and identify any concerns.

Criminal justice system

Data shows that Black and mixed-race children are disproportionately represented within the youth justice system (Ministry of Justice and Youth Justice Board for England and Wales, 2021).

There are many complex reasons for this disparity between groups of children (Lammy Review, 2017). One reason might be that Black and mixed-race children are sometimes adultified and held to a more mature standard of behaviour than their peers. This might lead to children receiving a criminal justice response from the adults around them, rather than a child protection response (Davis and Marsh, 2020).

There are higher than average rates of school exclusion amongst children from some communities – particularly those from Black Caribbean, Gypsy, Traveller and Roma backgrounds; whilst there are lower than average rates amongst other communities. These include Chinese, Indian and Bangladeshi communities (Department for Education (DfE), 2020). Being excluded from school can lead to long-term negative outcomes for a child, including:

  • criminal exploitation
  • exposure to anti-social behaviour
  • mental health issues
  • behavioural issues

(SecEd, 2018).

School staff, including teachers, see and interact with children daily. This means staff are often well placed to monitor and understand a child’s wellbeing and respond to any child protection concerns. Exclusion from school makes it harder for teachers to understand what may be going on in a child’s life and how to support them.

Learning for practitioners: anti-discriminatory practice

There are steps you can take to mitigate conscious and unconscious bias in your direct work with children and families.

Make sure the needs of each individual child remain paramount. All children are vulnerable and need protection and support.

If a child is displaying behaviour perceived to be challenging, consider the reasons behind it and explore what is happening in their life that might be having an impact on them.

When you’re carrying out risk assessments with children and families from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities, make sure:

  • you use the same process for all children
  • you include all the factors that affect the child’s life
  • your decisions are evidence-based.

Acknowledge that child-rearing practices may be different between and within communities. Find out about the practices and beliefs being followed by each child’s parents or carers, and consider how this may impact on the child’s safety (Bernard and Harris, 2019). Talk and listen to parents and carers to understand what’s happening in their family and empower them to make decisions that will help keep their child safe.

You might find it helpful to find a ‘critical friend’ who can help you reflect on how you work with people who are different from you and in situations that make you feel less comfortable. Discuss the reasons behind the actions you’ve taken and what impact those actions have had. This can help you recognise and stay aware of your biases, think about how these could be managed and make sure your decisions are always in the best interest of the child (Community Care, 2019).



Improving communication 

All children and young people can find it hard to tell someone if something isn’t right. But for children and adults from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities there may be additional barriers to asking for help.

Fear of speaking out

Speaking out about experiencing abuse doesn’t always lead to getting the necessary support. Some adults who experienced sexual abuse in childhood have reported being shunned by their communities after disclosing the abuse. The risk of being cut off from family and support networks can deter children from asking for help (IICSA, 2020).

Children might also worry that they won’t be believed or will be blamed for the abuse.

Honour and reputation

Some communities place high importance on female honour, linked to virginity and marriage. Girls who have been sexually abused might worry that family and community members would consider them to be “damaged”, or that they will be blamed for behaving in a way that is perceived to be immodest or provocative.

Boys might feel ashamed if their culture places value on male strength, or has a strong belief that only girls experience sexual abuse. Some adults who experienced sexual abuse in childhood have reported that they felt unable to speak out about their experiences because they felt they needed to uphold their family’s honour (IICSA, 2020).

Children may also be worried that speaking out about abuse will result in their community’s reputation being damaged. This may be because they have experienced racist stereotyping in the past (IICSA, 2020), or because there is a strong sense of honour in their community (Community Care, 2020a).

In any community, people might believe that problems should be dealt with in the community or their families. This can make people less likely to report concerns about abuse to child protection services and feel wary about bringing in ‘outsiders’ such as the police.

Taboos around sex and relationships

Within some communities and cultures, there are taboos around discussing sex, relationships and abuse, either within families or the wider community. This might include topics such as:

  • puberty and periods
  • what healthy relationships look like
  • anything related to sex or sexual relationships.

Not all communities have the language to describe sexual abuse or the language they use might not distinguish between consensual sexual activity and abuse.

If these issues are not discussed openly, children might have less understanding of what is abuse and what is not. They might also feel less able to speak out if something happens to them they’re not comfortable with.

Adults who have been raised in communities where sex, relationships and abuse aren’t spoken about might also be unaware of how to identify or raise concerns about abuse. As a result, practitioners might find it challenging to start conversations about keeping children safe.

Different perceptions about abuse

Some communities may have different perceptions of what constitutes child abuse. Children may not realise they are being abused, for example if they are growing up in a culture that routinely uses physical punishment. Or they may feel that there is no point in speaking out because the adults around them are unlikely to stop the abuse.

“I misbehaved at school today and when my mum found out she shouted at me and hit me. My mum’s done this before when I didn’t get a good mark at school. I’ve told other members of my family but they told me that this is African culture so they won’t do anything to stop it.”

Childline counselling session with a boy aged 10

Adults might not realise some practices are illegal in the UK, particularly if their culture considers that practice to be protective. An example of this is the harmful practice of breast ironing or breast flattening, a practice which aims to delay the development of girls’ breasts to ostensibly protect them from harassment, rape, abduction and early forced marriage and keep them in education (National FGM Centre 2021).

Building relationships

Sometimes a difference in cultural values can make it challenging for practitioners to build trusting relationships with children and families. This can make it difficult to speak out about sensitive issues. For example, it may not be considered appropriate for a male practitioner to work directly with mothers and children, and women may not feel comfortable discussing parenting practices with a man.

If practitioners have a bias based on stereotypes, they might view certain groups as ‘other’ or intrinsically different. This might lead them to treat some communities differently. In turn, this might create mistrust between the agency and the community and make people in that community less likely to speak out about abuse (IICSA, 2020).

Interpretation and translation

When practitioners, children and families do not share the same language, interpretation is vital to gain an understanding of need and risk. But interpretation does not automatically lead to understanding. Practitioners need to be aware of issues surrounding interpretation.

Children and families may have concerns about confidentiality if the interpreter is a community member, particularly if the community is small and there are notions of shame and honour. This might lead to them not speaking openly about what they have experienced.

Sometimes interpreters might inadvertently leave out important information because they do not realise its significance. And if the interpreter has perpetrated abuse or is trying to protect a perpetrator, they might withhold information from either the family or the practitioner (SCRA, 2017).

Some languages have several different dialects. If parents, carers, practitioners or interpreters do not speak the same dialect, they might not fully understand what is being said. This can make it challenging for practitioners to fully understand a family’s situation (Community Care, 2020c).

Interpreters are not always present when a practitioner is having informal contact with communities. This can make it more challenging for practitioners to form trusting relationships with families from certain communities, understand child protection risks and be available to hear parent concerns (SCRA, 2017).

Sometimes, practitioners might feel overwhelmed and perceive language barriers to be an insurmountable obstacle. This may lead to the misconception that some communities are ‘insular’ and practitioners might perceive it to be too challenging to engage with a particular group.

Learning for practitioners: improving communication

Talk and listen to the families and children you work with, directly or through an appropriate third party. Aim to understand the lived experience of each family and child.

All families and children have different barriers to speaking out. Through building an understanding of their lives, you can find out if there are any specific barriers that might affect the children and families you are working with. You will then be better placed to consider how you can overcome these barriers.

Think about how to build trust with individuals in a culturally sensitive way. For example, if you’re a male practitioner who needs to speak to a mother and it’s not appropriate for you to do so alone, you could arrange a suitable chaperone. If you’re working with a child, it might help to meet them with a trusted non-abusive adult, such as a school counsellor, youth worker or a family member.

You could also ask people to suggest a meeting place or activity, on their terms. This may help them feel more comfortable and help to develop a trusting relationship (Community Care, 2020b).

Acknowledge the challenges that children and young people might face and ask them about their lived experience.

> Find out more about talking to children about racism on the NSPCC website

When you’re working with any community, make sure children and families know who to contact if they have any child protection concerns. This might include:

  • your organisation’s nominated child protection lead
  • local child protection services
  • the NSPCC helpline.

The helpline can be contacted on 0808 800 5000 or by email

Make sure children also know about Childline and how they can contact them for confidential advice and support. Calls to 0800 1111 are free and children can also get support and advice via the Childline website. You can also download or order our Childline posters and wallet cards and display these across schools, encouraging children to contact Childline if they need to talk.

When working with families and children who do not share the same language as you, it’s important to use an appropriate interpreter. It’s best practice to choose an interpreter who:

  • has safeguarding and child protection training
  • the child or family feel comfortable with and can speak freely with
  • you can trust not to withhold information or breach confidentiality
  • has experience of interpreting on the same or a similar subject matter
  • can sensitively ask probing questions.

You should brief the interpreter in advance to clarify the level of detail you’re looking for and the type of questions you will be asking. Agree whether there are any cultural insights the interpreter could offer and how best they can share this with you.

If interpreters are unavailable or verbal communication is difficult, consider how to use body language to establish some communication and gain some understanding of the community you’re working with.



Engaging with communities 

It can be challenging for practitioners to engage with children and families and there can be extra challenges when working with people from a different community to your own.

Cultural awareness

Being aware of different cultures can help practitioners identify and understand risks to children’s safety. But focusing too much on community-specific risks might mean overlooking other forms of abuse and neglect.

If practitioners don’t understand the culture of the community they are working with, they might cause offence without meaning to. This might make it more difficult for them to engage with the community and understand any child protection risks.

Sometimes, worries about culture and beliefs can lead practitioners to be afraid of working with different communities (Duncan and Norfolk Safeguarding Children Partnership, 2020). This might make them less confident to assess risk and ask pertinent and challenging questions.

Practitioners might believe that some communities are ‘hard to reach’. This perception might arise if:

  • practitioners don’t know much about the community
  • their organisation has had inconsistent or limited engagement with the community in the past
  • practitioners are not equipped to overcome cultural or communication barriers.

Labelling communities ‘hard to reach’ can lead to the idea that it’s not possible to improve engagement with them. This can prevent practitioners from taking steps to build relationships with that community.

Perceptions of organisations

If an agency or organisation isn’t culturally diverse, this may be off-putting to people from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities (IICSA, 2020). They may not feel that practitioners, agencies and services from a different background can fully understand the dynamics of their community.

Children and adults from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities may not have had positive experiences with ‘official’ agencies in the past. This can change their perceptions of whether practitioners can help and support them, and cause them to be suspicious or fearful of future interactions.

For example, if a child or their family have had negative experiences with the police, they may be reluctant to contact the emergency services if they need urgent help. If practitioners keep suggesting this as a course of protective action, the child may feel misunderstood and start to believe there is no way for them to get support.

Some families might be worried that being engaged with any statutory or ‘official’ agency will lead to deportation, children being removed, or eviction from a Traveller site (SCRA, 2017).

Learning for practitioners: cultural competence

Cultural competence means being able to work effectively with people from different backgrounds, valuing diversity, being aware of personal assumptions and biases and thinking about how to overcome barriers (Larson and Bradshaw, 2017). Rather than focusing on someone’s knowledge of a specific culture, cultural competency highlights interpersonal skills such as openness, respect and willingness to learn.

Cultural competence helps professionals build on their existing cultural awareness by working with other people in a sensitive, positive way to develop a deeper understanding of their beliefs, attitudes and cultures.

When working with people from a Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic community, keep an open and inquisitive mind. Don’t compare their culture to other cultures or your own. Aim to build up a non-judgemental knowledge of the community’s dynamics, which will help you work with children and adults sensitively and appropriately (Duncan, A and Norfolk Safeguarding Partnership Board, 2020). Ways to do this can include:

  • acknowledging and challenging any preconceptions you have about the community you are working with
  • asking about the community’s cultural traditions and values
  • attending events in the community and build a good working relationship with those in positions of influence and power
  • finding out about the community's specific needs and what services are most relevant
  • exploring the lived experience of each family you work with by asking questions about what their culture means to them.

For example, faith plays an important role in the lives of many children and communities, so it’s important to make sure you understand the dynamics of a child’s and family’s religious background. Ask open questions about what their faith means to them and how it affects their daily life.

> Find out about how to engage sensitively with faith communities

Find out how people in a community define their identity and culture. This will help you to build trust and minimise the risk of causing offence. Use specific terms to refer to the communities and backgrounds of the children and families you’re working with instead of generalised terms of acronyms such as BME or BAME. Generalised terms do not reflect specific groups and people, and are unlikely to be used by individuals to describe themselves (Community Care, 2019).

Make sure you understand the language and rites of passage in a community. For example, in some Gypsy, traveller and Roma communities ‘running away’ is a traditional marriage practice where children leave their community and return married. Understanding this will help practitioners carry out fully informed risk assessments and respond proportionately to any concerns.

Find respectful solutions to differences in cultural practices. If you’re discussing a harmful practice which the community considers to be protective, bear this in mind and speak with respect. But remember you must also be honest about the impact of child abuse and act immediately if you have any child protection concerns.

We've produced a training resource to help you talk to adults in Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities about childcare practices that might be positive and harmful, and ways to keep children safe.

> Get started 


Taking an intersectional approach

Children and young people from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities, like all children, have diverse identities. As well as experiencing prejudice or bias related to their ethnic background, they might experience challenges relating to other parts of their identity, such as:

  • gender
  • sexuality
  • disability
  • mental health
  • having been in care
  • where they live, how much money they have and how much access they have to education.

The way these challenges interact is known as intersectionality.

For example, Black girls might experience adultification, racism and sexism at the same time. Practitioners’ biases and perceptions of the way different characteristics interact can affect the way they assess the risk to a child. This in turn will have an impact on the support that is put in place to help keep the child safe.

> Listen to our podcast episode on intersectionality in social work practice

A child’s culture may also interact with an aspect of their identity, for example if the culture does not accept the child’s sexuality or gender identity. It can be difficult for children to cope with this and it can have a negative impact on their welfare.

“I’m upset because I came out to my family as transgender and they’re refusing to support me. My family are from Pakistan and don’t want me to dress in girl’s clothes because they say it will bring shame to the family. I’ve been self-harming and recently the pressure from my family has been so much that I’m feeling suicidal again, I don’t know what to do”.

Childline counselling session with a transgender girl aged 16

Learning for practitioners: understanding the child

When you’re working with a child, consider all the factors that might influence their safety and wellbeing. Take the time to get to know them, understand their lived experience and how they might face risks due to how other might perceive their identity.

You could consider creating safe spaces for children who have similar identities and come from the same community. This might help them talk about their experiences and get peer support.

Find out more about:

Strategic decision making

Best practice for strategic decision makers

There are changes you can make at an organisational level to ensure you are supporting and protecting children from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities more effectively.

We’ve pulled together some key learning for best practice for strategic decision makers.

Anti-discriminatory framework

Commit to establishing anti-racist and anti-discriminatory practices throughout your organisation. A framework can help integrate anti-racist and culturally sensitive practice at all levels of your organisation. This should include all levels of staff and volunteers, from leaders to frontline workers.

Your framework should set out specific commitments and actions, including:

  • recruiting diverse staff
  • promoting diversity and inclusion in your position statements
  • having a zero-tolerance approach to racism
  • having on-going training on anti-racism and cultural competence.

By embedding anti-racist and anti-discriminatory values into practice, this can help your organisation better understand and engage with communities, identify and reduce racism and bias, and improve support and protecting to Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities.

(Community Care, 2020d).

Safeguarding policies and procedures

Your organisation’s policies and procedures should set out how you will create a safe, supportive and inclusive environment for all children and young people.

The needs of children from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities should be incorporated into safeguarding policies and procedures.

Safeguarding policy statements should:

  • include an equality statement with a commitment to anti-discriminatory practice
  • recognise the increased vulnerability of children from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities to abuse and neglect, and the barriers they may face in accessing help
  • recognise that extra safeguards may be needed to keep children from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities safe from abuse.

> Find out more about writing a safeguarding policy


Recruiting staff and volunteers from the communities you are working with can help your organisation better reflect and understand them. This can help build trusting relationships, narrow communication gaps and change negative perceptions.

Not having to explain cultural concepts such as perceptions of abuse, shame and honour can make people from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities feel more comfortable about speaking out if they have any child protection concerns (Community Care, 2020a).

Consider how to improve your recruitment practices, so you have a diverse workforce of staff and volunteers. This might include anonymising applications, considering how and where you advertise vacancies and thinking about the language used in adverts.

Service development

At a strategic level, you might use community data to help decide which services you provide and which communities to prioritise. However, there is evidence that some children from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic community groups are overrepresented in the child protection system while others are underrepresented (Owen and Statham, 2009; Nuffield Foundation, 2020).

Instead of taking data at face value, consider why over-and under-representations might occur. This might include:

  • communities having limited access to support agencies
  • communities being reluctant to report concerns to agencies
  • practitioners being uncertain about how to appropriately respond to the needs of certain communities.

(Owen and Statham, 2009).

You should also consider whether unconscious bias towards some communities might result in lower thresholds for child protection referrals.

Make sure your organisation has robust procedures for recording, reporting and monitoring the ethnicity of children and young people you work with. Use this to help you think about which communities you need to better engage with, and where you need to develop targeted services.

Effective engagement

When you’ve identified any communities or groups your organisation isn’t effectively engaging with, you should consider what the current barriers are. This might include practitioners and families not sharing the same language or practitioners misunderstanding cultural dynamics. Think about how you can overcome these factors.

For example, you could:

  • provide protected time for practitioners to engage with and get to know different communities
  • produce materials in the first language(s) of the community to highlight your services and raise awareness of child protection issues
  • build relationships with local figures who reflect the diversity and community you are working in
  • promote your services in the way that’s most appropriate for each community, for example via local radio, social media and leaflets or posters (remember that written forms of some languages might be less widely understood or might not have a written form)

(SCRA, 2017).

You should make sure you have the capacity to respond to any increase in engagement following promotional or awareness raising activities. This might include freeing up practitioners’ time or employing interpreters.

Risk assessments

Review your risk assessment tools to ensure they are evidence informed. This will help minimise unconscious bias by ensuring the same process applies for all children.

Make sure all risk assessment forms include space to consider any issues relating to a child’s ethnic or cultural background. This will encourage practitioners to build up an accurate picture of the child and the community and consider all the factors in a child’s life (The Community Care Podcast, 2020).


Arrange training about diversity and inclusion so that everyone in your organisation is more aware of their own biases and understands how to adapt their practice accordingly (Community Care, 2020d).

You should also arrange training about the communities you need to engage with. Ideally this should be led by people from those communities, who are able to explain cultural dynamics but also have an understanding of the child protection system.

This training will be helpful for people from all levels of your organisation. It will help frontline practitioners adapt to work more effectively with children and families, and strategic decision makers to design and deliver effective services that meet people’s cultural, social and linguistic needs (Duncan, A and Norfolk Safeguarding Children Partnership, 2020).

Support and mentoring

Practitioners working in a specific community for the first time will naturally have questions about how best to navigate the culture and context (Duncan and Norfolk Safeguarding Children Partnership, 2020). Make sure you provide them with ongoing support. For example, you could pair them with someone who has experience of working successfully with that community.

You could also set up peer groups or a ‘critical friend’ system, to enable practitioners to reflect on and improve their work with people from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities in a supportive environment (Community Care, 2019).

It might also be helpful to set up a system where practitioners from Black, Asian and minoritised ethnic communities can share their lived experience with senior leaders from different ethnic backgrounds. This can help senior leaders understand how racism affects people’s lives and think about how best to develop anti-discriminatory practices (Community Care, 2020d).



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