Learning from Windrush: a kinship care context

Learning from Windrush: a kinship care context

As we approached the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the HMT Empire, I was filled with mixed emotions. As I’m sure many Caribbean migrant families now settled in the UK. The Windrush economic migration brought about parent, child and sibling separation – it also created the phenomena of who are now known as ‘Barrel Children’.  

"I have prepared open questions to generate conversation and encourage the sharing of personal lived experiences. These questions partly stem from my observations that racial disparities exist in kinship care in England due to a lack of cultural competency knowledge."

As a kinship carer myself, for years I’ve been interested in my family’s dynamics, and have always been a little curious about what life would have been like had I been born in Jamaica. Please don’t misinterpret my reflections, I do appreciate the opportunities I have had being born in England, including access to education and the award of my Churchill Fellowship

Following the launch of Independent review of children's social care: final report in May 2022 and its junior counterpart the Ethnicity and children’s social care report both divulging emerging evidence of racial disparities in children’s social care, I expected a sense of urgency to rectify this racial injustice. Next followed the vague commitments of Stable Homes, Built on Love, compounding my disappointment. 

The trajectory of silence felt a bit like a betrayal, a belittling of the lived experience stories of my kinship carer peers, especially those who Families In Harmony had encouraged to take part in the various consultation processes, sharing their lived experience with the belief that those listening truly cared: I had to take action! 

Following my attendance at Sounddelivery Spokespersons Network course, I successfully applied to the Churchill Fellowship to complete some overseas research linked to improving policy and practice in the UK. My Fellowship participation was questionable in the early stages, as during the application process one of my grandsons died. Although I miss him so much, with the support of family and friends I made the decision to continue the journey of contributing to racial equity in kinship care, especially if it prevents another family from experiencing our pain and loss. 

Research Rationale 

You may be wondering if my Churchill Fellowship research project stems from a hypothesis. Intentionally no, but as a peer researcher it probably does.  

I have prepared open questions to generate conversation and encourage the sharing of personal lived experiences. These questions partly stem from my observations that racial disparities exist in kinship care in England due to a lack of cultural competency knowledge.  

Families In Harmony, which I co-founded, provides lived experience-led solutions to address cultural competency through initiatives such as practitioner ‘Lunch and Learn’ co-production workshops in partnership with CoramBAAF, and Harmony Reflection social worker team training. We were also delighted when Children and Families Across Boarders took steps to mitigate cultural incompetency through their recently produced introductory guide to working with families with heritage from Jamaica. But something fundamental was still missing. 

On reflection, I believe what was missing was the element of individual agency. A personal choice had to be factored in. What were the decision drivers in this personal agency? My hypotheses potentially could be summarised as: 

  • Do cultural norms and gender roles influence decision-making processes when it comes to seeking help, and how are these influences connected to motivations? 

The presence of internalised mistrust, perceptions of state authorities impacting externalised behaviours, and willingness to seek help 

My Churchill Fellowship uses a qualitative framework of narrative research - why?  

The decision to take this approach is linked to the historical-cultural norm of African and Caribbean communities of storytelling as a method to pass down knowledge through generations, preserve cultural practices and express creativity. During the Transatlantic Slave Trade, storytelling helped to preserve identity, lift morale and resist oppression. Civil Rights Leader Dr Martin Luther King Jr used storytelling narratives in his speeches to galvanise support for racial equality. Anansi stories are often told to children to reinforce good morals and character building. 

The initial conversations I have had with social work leads at the University of West Indies have led me to believe that families will be more open to sharing their stories with me as a peer researcher, but also as a foreign national who is not entering their communities representing any state department. 

The method I will be deploying is life story in-person interviews – why?  

I will be able to capture personal stories and historical accounts using basic Dictaphone and digital camera resources, with minimum reliance on access to technology, the internet or challenges of digital poverty or literacy skills barriers. Giving kinship carers time and a medium to share their stories in a peer environment has often been likened to therapy, that ‘exhale’ moment, because the listener gets it. Thankfully, Johanna, also a kinship carer, co-founder of Families In Harmony and a Trauma Informed Practitioner, will be travelling with me to Jamaica. We will use our combined skills to support participants during and after interviews. 

My methodology application will be thematic analysis – why?  

Identifying themes within the lived experience narratives will better enable comparison when repeating the study in other Caribbean countries and the UK. The Black Care Experience produced a handbook We are not the samewhich rightly points out that there are 34 Caribbean countries all with their distinctive identifying characteristics, and all with a story to be told that can contribute knowledge and learning to improving racial equity in the UK.. 

The kinship care story of Jamaica linked to Windrush migration is primarily derived from a power imbalance. The transactional exchange of migrating parents gaining access to a perceived better life in England, and the host country England benefiting from the gain of low-cost skilled and semi-skilled labour, whilst the kinship children and caregivers in Jamaica receive produce barrels and promises of family reunification. All whilst shouldering the greatest burden of broken attachments. 

Significance of Windrush kinship Care research to policy development in England 

Unfortunately, 75 years ago no consideration was given to the support required to mitigate the impact of broken attachments in children left behind in the Caribbean. These children are more widely known as ‘Barrel Children’, a term introduced by Dr Crawford-Brown. Her research has contributed evidence to support the narrative of a trauma-based legacy created through the overnight phenomena of Windrush migration in Jamaica and across the Caribbean. 

This lack of consideration seen in the rollout of Windrush migration is still evident in the development of current children’s social care policies and practices. Potentially we will see England’s Black Caribbean kinship care families disproportionately unsupported, particularly as they make up significant numbers in informal kinship care arrangements. Exploring kinship care with resident social work practitioners, academics, and kinship carers in Jamaica - through a cultural lens, and whilst considering informal care arrangements, and support systems - to then combine this research with the recommendation from Stable Homes Built on Love and Kinship Care Strategy will contribute to a reduction in racial disparities. 

Research shows that there are more Black children in informal kinship care arrangements and local authority care. Without further research to understand the impact of separation, trauma and loss, we run the risk of repeating historical patterns of Caribbean communities bearing the cost of caring for their children without support. This will continue the legacy of race-related adverse childhood experiences.   

You can follow my Churchill Fellowship Journey on Twitter, @Sharon_Kinship

You can also read this blog on Coram's website.


The views and opinions expressed by any Fellow are those of the Fellow and not of the Churchill Fellowship or its partners, which have no responsibility or liability for any part of them.


Newsletter Sign Up