Javed Khan: How can big charities uplift the voices of smaller BAME-led organisations?

We need to join hands and stand together during the difficult times to come: collaborating and learning from each other

We know that black, Asian and minority ethnic communities have been hardest hit by Covid-19 - not just because they are more likely to be seriously ill and die from the virus, but because the lockdown has compounded existing inequalities.

Already more likely to face poverty, insecure work, mental health problems, and other challenges, these groups will be even more vulnerable during the economic downturn.

As demand for charity resources in these communities soared as a result of the pandemic, causing us to look more closely at racial inequalities, the killing of George Floyd took place and anti-racism protests swept across the globe. 

Institutional and systemic racism can no longer be ignored, and has forced us in the charity sector to take a long, hard look at ourselves and confront some difficult truths.

I want to take a moment to talk about the use of the BAME acronym. We know it is problematic and people choose to identify in lots of different ways – including as black and brown. 

Our aim is to be inclusive and to recognise the huge diversity amongst non-white communities. We are very open to using a more sensitive term, once one has been identified. 

I am Barnardo’s first non-white, non-Christian chief executive in the charity’s 154-year history. But that doesn’t mean our quest to be an anti-racist organisation is over – far from it. 

We need to listen to the BAME children and young people we support, to our BAME colleagues and volunteers, and to the needs of the wider community. It won’t do us any good simply talking among ourselves. 

With around one in five of the children and families Barnardo’s supports coming from BAME backgrounds, we must reach out and hear from organisations deeply rooted in these communities, and make a conscious effort to amplify those voices.

As a first step on this long road, I had the pleasure of chairing a webinar about supporting BAME children and young people in the post-Covid era.

We were joined by around 90 participants, with more than 50 BAME-led charities and community organisation leaders from across the UK.

Adeeba Malik, deputy chief executive of QED, talked about the need for government leadership and investment, but also reminded us there is diversity within BAME groups - decision makers can’t just lump together all communities who aren’t white. 

Debbie Ariyo, chief executive of Afruca - Safeguarding Children, talked about the challenges facing black children. As they return to school many will have suffered hardship, trauma and in some cases abuse.

The key question is how the system will deal with the avalanche of case work to come. 

Khalida Luqman, chief executive of the Tassibee Centre, said things had got worse during Covid-19 in Rotherham. Hate crimes are increasing, with isolated young women being attacked and having their headscarves pulled off. 

Khalida told us that "family is a jigsaw" – you can’t just work with one piece. Too often, children are working as carers and translators for relatives – they are the "hidden heroes". 

We heard some fantastic insights from many other contributors during the event – touching on issues like domestic abuse, honour-based violence, illiteracy, lack of outdoor space, and access to employment.

Ashfaque Chowdhury, chair of the Association of Muslim Schools UK, reminded us that small charities and organisations do not always feel that bigger charities like Barnardo’s take them seriously as partners.

We can and must do better. I hope we sent a strong message that we are serious about partnership.

The discussion reinforced my deeply-held view that the charity sector is the glue that holds communities together, especially at times of crisis.

In these uniquely challenging times we must work together, drawing on each other’s strengths and expertise – and combining our resources – in order to deliver the support that vulnerable children so desperately need. 

The sector also has a uniquely important role because, as more than one of the participants said, services are not always culturally sensitive, as a result of deep-seated prejudice and institutional racism. 

We have a duty to represent the needs of BAME children to decision makers. The reality is that too many of those making policy don’t know what is going on in communities, and we can play a vital role in changing this.

I hope this webinar is just the beginning of a rich collaboration with BAME-led charities across the UK.

We need to join hands and stand together during the difficult times to come: collaborating, learning from each other, and starting to address the factors that lead to BAME children having poorer outcomes than their peers.

Javed Khan is chief executive of Barnardo’s


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