Book Review: Working with children of Mixed Parentage

Edited by Toyin Okitikpi

"Working with children of mixed parentage" is a book written for social workers, and other social welfare workers, such as probation officers and education and youth and community practitioners and academics. It is a compilation with a number of different authors, including Harmony member, Gillian Olumide, and is edited by Toyin Okitikpi, who is the Director of Social Work at South Bank University.

The book's central tenet is that the historical legacy of slavery and subjugation of black people is the background which led to the binary perception of people as black or white. The authors argue that many social workers and welfare professionals have imbued this rather simplistic, binary view of race.

The book looks at the assumptions which govern the way children of mixed parentage are frequently viewed and the way this has affected social workers' professional practice. For example, one chapter explores the history of the "one drop" rule (one drop of black blood renders a person black) from the USA in the 18th century, and the way this led to a view of mixed race people as "marginal" and not fitting properly into either society. The author argues that this led to a tendency for workers to be rather too quick to see the problems of mixed race children as being concerned with confusion over their identity, rather than looking for other possible causes.

Kwame Owusu-Bempah points out that political correctness has led social workers – and particularly black social workers – to oppose transracial placements for children and to argue that mixed race children's psychological salvation lie solely in identifying with the black community, in adopting black culture and developing a black identity. He then puts the question "But how does this differ from the one drop rule?" The author argues that this does not allow for self-definition or the right to claim dual membership of black and white groups, and says that young people are likely to be confused at the idea of disowning 50% of who they are.

Another chapter explores the rationale behind the assertion made in the recent past that children of dual parentage need to adopt a positive black identity, on the grounds that race is such a potentially damaging factor in children's lives, that it is essential for these children to have a positive identity to counter-balance this. The argument is that positive self images and role models prepare black children for white racist society and that mixed race children have to identify as black in order to survive, and because being black is their true identity. This argument sees white mothers as ill equipped to understand their children's needs whereas black mothers are assumed to be able to instil an adequate black identity.

Vicky Harman and Ravinder Barn look at the experiences of white mothers of mixed parentage children, and at the range of strategies they adopt to help their children deal with racism. This chapter also looked at the over-representation of mixed parentage children in the public care system in England, with mixed parentage children being two and a half times more likely than other children to enter care. The authors tentatively suggest some reasons for this. They point out that the majority of these children were living with lone mothers prior to entering care, and that the mothers had to deal with the usual problems of being a sole parent, as well as with possible racism and lack of support from their own families.

Another chapter, written by June Thoburn, looks at a longitudinal study of young people of mixed parentage who were placed for adoption in the 1980's. This found that the majority of the placements were very successful and the young people did well.

The book overall is an optimistic book. It explores a number of current issues, including the increasing number of interracial relationships and children of mixed parentage in modern Britain, and advocates a belief that it is possible for mixed parentage children to develop a positive and integrated sense of self that draws upon and celebrates their dual heritage.

It is an academic book, written by academics for practitioners. Some writers have a more accessible style than others. Its interest for Harmony members is that it is focussed on the topic of mixed parentage children. For me, as a social work practitioner, who has often over the past 20 years felt rather out of sympathy with the then current social work thinking regarding race, it was decidedly encouraging. It explained how some of the practice guidelines developed, but also how they are gradually being reviewed and revised, hopefully for the better.


Published by Russell House Publishers
ISBN 1-903855-64-0