Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

6.  Memorandum submitted by Barnardo's


  We will look here at the reasons for the "apparent" breakdown in the African Caribbean family and the implication this has, on the occurrence of young people in crime statistics. We will see that the picture is unclear, for there are many reasons, many of which overlap. The concept of "break up" and models of family form and functioning, differ from group to group, and is not a fixed or given variable and so what we may perceive as breakdown, may not be that at all. We will also look at adaptive nature of African Caribbean culture, as being in a fluid changing transitional state.


  1.  This is a joint response from Barnardo's and the BabyFather Alliance who are pleased to have this opportunity to give evidence to the Home Affairs Committee. We have been working together exploring family and parenting issues with the African Caribbean community and feel we have some contribution and insights to offer.

  2.  Barnardo's works with more than 110,000 children, young people and families each year across the UK, providing over 380 services. The services are located in some of the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods, where child poverty and social exclusion are common features. Approximately 14% of the children and young people are from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities, with 5% with a "Black or Black British" background.

  3.  The Babyfather Initiative, based at Barnardo's, has as its focus the welfare and support given to the Black child. Its philosophy is reflected in the proverb that "It takes a whole village to raise a child". We have, for the last three years toured the major urban conurbations of Leeds, Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, London, and Bristol, organising forums, workshops and other events to discuss with professionals, the African Caribbean community and African Caribbean men/fathers in particular, the role and impact of African Caribbean male parenting.

  4.  Given the nature and focus of our work, in this evidence we shall look at family breakdown in African Caribbean families, including the role of fathers and the incidence of African Caribbean young people in the criminal justice system, as perpetrators, suspects and victims. The comments made draw on the discussions we have had with fathers, families and professionals, Barnardo's practice experience and research which seems particularly relevant in this context.


The Family Life of Fathers

  5.  Research, practice and fathers themselves are now highlighting that the concept of family breakdown needs to be examined more critically. This leads to a reassessment of roles, in particular the role of fathers. Much has been written about mothers, children and young people, and how to safeguard their interests and welfare. This focus has often been, objectively, at the expense of understanding and valuing the contribution of fathers beyond that of economic provider. The picture however is far from clear and often conflictual.

Family Breakdown, Fathers and Young People: What We Know

  6.  From the USA, the Morehouse (1999) study of African American families, we understand the lack of effective father involvement promotes in young people a condition they have called "father hunger". African Caribbean children unable to forge a father child closeness experience a trauma, leaving them vulnerable to peer pressure and external influences. Their research states, "There are boys and young men who without the protection and guidance of fathers struggle each day to figure out what it means to be a man, improvising for themselves expedient and too often violent and self destructive codes of manhood".

  7.  Critically this study implies, families and children who experience father hunger are more vulnerable to influences, action and behaviour resulting in anti-social behaviour, as perpetrators, suspects and victims.

  8.  If we consider the number of children being raised in lone parent households where the father is absent and disengaged from the children as an indicator of family breakdown, there are a high number of African Caribbean families experiencing family breakdown. Consequently, there are a significant number of African Caribbean children being raised in this manner, compared with other ethnic groups, (David Owen 2001), with a greater potential of experiencing father hunger.

Social Factors

  9.  It has been noted (Rebecca O'Neill 2001) that the context in which families exists can exert great pressure on families to such an extent the normative functions of the family become disabled. The result is increased levels of frustration and friction between its members. Within African Caribbean communities there is considerable evidence of multiple deprivation, and many African Caribbean families experience high levels of unemployment, low educational attainment, poor health and poor housing conditions. We note here also the existence of institutional racism confronts many African Caribbean people on a daily basis.

  10.  The cumulative affect of these pressures, (Raymond T Smith 2001; Race and the Criminal Justice System 2005), takes its toil on parents and their capacity to service and maintain family cohesion. Social disadvantage may test the ability of some African Caribbean couples to maintain the integrity of their family, literally to breaking point. The process can force African Caribbean families apart, weakening parental control that leads to children's estrangement from the family. Consequently we see a greater portion of African Caribbean youth at risk of involvement in anti-social behaviour.

  11.  Typically, the process of family break up puts the father outside the home, following which infrequent patterns of contact can develop that are compounded by unsuitable accommodation, as fathers attempt to re-establish themselves. We see a pattern here of fathers, who relying on family networks, often return to the cramped conditions of their family/mother's home or move in with their new partner. In these conditions African Caribbean fathers develop and maintain close bonds with their children and participate in the raising of their children. This results in guidance as an occasional activity and as "weekend discipline", it is ineffective and may be counterproductive to the father-child bond.

  12.  Using this model, as many more African Caribbean families can be found in the lower economic rungs of society, many more African Caribbean families are at risk of family break up. This process that places fathers outside the home, directly contributes to leaving many more African Caribbean children, as opposed to other ethnic groups, exposed to father hunger and subsequently at risk of offending, as young boys, especially, externalise their loss and lack of guidance, express their anger and confusion through anti-social behaviour and disengagement from mainstream society.

Father Confidence

  13.  Whether resident or non resident, engaged or disengaged from the family, we would draw attention, to the stereotype of the Black male's identity within wider society. This image had a negative impact on many African Caribbean fathers. It can lessen the aspiration, self belief and confidence of African Caribbean fathers to function effectively as parents. This can leave young people without positive role models of males including as fathers.

  14.  "Evidence shows people from BME groups continue to be disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. For example Black people are just over six times more likely to be stopped and searched, three times more likely to be arrested, seven times more likely to be in prison than White people" yet "Black British people between the ages of 10-25 years are no more or less likely to commit crime than their White counter parts" (Race and the Criminal Justice System 2005).

  15.  In light of such research and evidence, the fact that young African Caribbean people are overrepresented in crime statistics, suggests that some African Caribbean fathers, are not perhaps as effective in this role as they could, or are allowed to be, indicating African Caribbean fatherhood may be suffering a crisis or rather a collapse of confidence.

Traditional Methods of Control

  16.  In our discussions with members of the African Caribbean community, many of whom were born here in the UK, they explore their own experiences of childhood, including being raised by parents from the Caribbean, where guidance rested on authority with corporal discipline as a feature.

  17.  Today, the sons and daughters of "Windrush", reflecting on their childhood, now seek to guide their children using different means. To a greater or lesser degree this cultural revision is a work in progress. In some families there may be a gap: traditional African Caribbean methods of parental control are not acceptable but new methods are not yet always fully formulated and established. This incomplete process can increase the likelihood of family break up as children can become estranged from parents who do not always have effective methods of setting boundaries.

  18.  Fusing traditions from the Caribbean in a European context will take time and whilst this process continues, young people of African Caribbean descent will be vulnerable to the more destructive elements of youth culture as victims, perpetrators and suspects, and display anti-social behaviour.

Parents, Children and Crime

  19.  Fathers Direct have found 59% of boys with a convicted parent go on to be convicted themselves. We know that many of the young African Caribbean men in prison are already fathers and that their young children are at risk. In these cases we believe culturally specific parenting course for fathers, such as those that have been offered by the Babyfather Initiative to young men in prison and young offenders institutions, exploring the impact of their actions on their children and helping them develop positive relations with them, will contribute to breaking the cycle.

African Caribbean Young People as Victims of Crime

  20.  Whilst there is a focus on young African Caribbean people as suspects and perpetrators of crime, evidence suggests they are also the victims of crime. At Barnardos we feel it is important to remember this, and begin to develop services to support young vulnerable African Caribbean people.

  21.  Though the reasons for this are not yet fully clear, for instance as more crime tends to take place in the inner city where African Caribbean family are concentrated, young African Caribbean people will be the victim of crime (Stella Yarrow 2005). However as we have talked to fathers and parents, they have pointed specifically to the phenomena of Black on Black violence as a feature amongst young people, and explain it partly as a function of self hate and low self esteem, internalised from wider society.

Revealed: The Family Life of African Caribbean Fathers

  22.  In groundbreaking work from the UK, Beckford (2006), implies the concept of breakdown, as well as, the traditional euro-centric model of family form and functioning is misleading as viewed against the family types he has found in African Caribbean communities in the UK. We find it more helpful to recognise that African Caribbean family structure may be different in some families, but fathers can be engaged or disengaged with the lives of their children, both within and outside the nuclear family.

  23.  As we have found, from our discussions with African Caribbean fathers themselves, and can see from research evidence (Pine 2003), African Caribbean fathers do indeed contribute to child rearing, able to have significant impact in raising esteem and educational attainment. Tracey Reynolds (2001) also highlights this point noting, specific areas such as guidance, protection and security and economic provision in which African Caribbean fathers are traditionally influential. We believe that it is important to recognise these strengths and build on them in our work with fathers.



  24.  Social factors: social disadvantage, high unemployment, institutional racism and other factors greatly influence African Caribbean family's ability to cope. Thus whilst it is important we look critically at African Caribbean families, it is important we do not pathologise the Black family in the process.

  25.  Confidence: African Caribbean fathers are undermined by the wider negative social identity of the Black male.

  26.  Controls: Traditional methods of control are no longer viable in a European context.

  27.  Social policy: There is a critical lack of support given to fathers generally and what support is offered eg, advances in paternity leave has little impact on African Caribbean men/fathers who experience difficulty accessing the job market.

  28.  The concept of break up and the family must be questioned in light of research evidence as this relates to service delivery set against the different models of family

Social Policy

  29.  The expression from grass roots community groups and fathers for greater involvement has taken government, social policy makers and statutory services by surprise. The Babyfather Initiative has been contacted by such groups and individuals across the country asking for us to work with them.

  30.  Barnardos BabyFather Initiative has we believe, contributed to this movement by proactively developing culturally appropriate parenting courses, and engaging the African Caribbean community in and around these issues.

We Would Like to See

  31.  We would like to see efforts by the Government to develop and support culturally specific initiatives aimed at strengthening cohesion and the problem solving techniques in African Caribbean relationships, to strengthen the parenting role.

  32.  We would like to see a greater link between research such as that by Robert Beckford and J Pine and the development of social policy.

  33.  As we begin to understand the hidden role of absent but engaged fathers in families, we must begin to reassess service delivery. Specific measures need to be developed aimed at supporting African Caribbean fathers outside the home through, for example, outreach programs, training front line staff and management to understand the family life of African Caribbean fathers, and greater support of voluntary and community groups working with African Caribbean fathers.

  34.  The role of fathers must be made visible, for whilst in literature parents are mentioned such as in Children and Young People's Plans, Every Child Matters, National Service Framework for Children and Young People, more focus must be made to articulate and define the unique qualities African Caribbean fathers bring to parenting.

  35.  Secondary measures that support African Caribbean men in their role as fathers are needed, especially in housing. For example changes could be made to the way accommodation is allocated to take account of fathers shared care of their children in different households.

  36.  Efforts to increase the confidence of African Caribbean men/fathers and familes through celebration of positive role models to counter the negative stereotype of the African Caribbean male, achieved through, for example, the school curriculum, museum exhibits, community days.

September 2006

BIBLIOGRAPHY  Beyond Father Absence Jeune Guishard Pine (unpublished, 2003).

  Owen. D, Smith T.R, Reynolds. T,—Caribbean Families in Britain and the Trans-Atlantic World (Ed Harry Gouldbourne and Mary Chamberlain, 2001).

  Child and Young People Plans (Department of Education and skills 2005).

  Every Child Matters (The Stationery Office 2003).

  Experiments in Living; The Fatherless Family (Rebecca O'Neill 2002).

  Fathers Direct (Inside Fatherhood 2004) .

  National Service framework for children and young people (Department of health 2004).

  Preventative service for Black and minority Ethnic Group (Shama Ahmed, 2004).

  Race and the Criminal Justice System (Criminal Justice Race Unit, 2005).

  Turning the Corner on Father Absence (Morehouse Research Institute, 1999).

  The National Evaluation of the Children's Fund Shama Ahmed 2004.

  The experience of young Black men as victims of crime (Stella Yarrow 2005).

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 15 June 2007