Serious question marks over the quality of care for black and Asian children cannot be addressed unless the Government institutes mandatory ethnic monitoring of social service users and providers, warns a new study.
The report, Acting on Principle, is the first national evaluation of local authority implementation of the 1989 Children Act's requirements to "give due consideration to the child's religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background".
Felicity Collier, director of the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) which published the research, said: "While this report indicates a great deal of good work, it also highlights important gaps in service provision. When finances are severely constrained, best practice is too often set aside and this report shows that those most likely to feel the impact of this are black children and their families."
The report, which was funded by the Commission for Racial Equality, highlights the urgent needs of a growing number of mixed-race children, who make up one of the largest groups in care.
Lecturer in Applied Social Studies at London's Royal Holloway College and co-author of the study, Dr Ravinder Barn said: "In terms of placements, we found social workers were not always clear about what was suitable for mixed-race children.
"They face a real dilemma and there is little policy guidance for practitioners."
While improvements in finding appropriate placements for black children dispelled the myth that they languished in care, concern was expressed over "very sparse" anti-racist training for social services staff - a decline that was partly due to a backlash to political correctness.
"London boroughs like Lewisham and Camden, who pioneered such policies in the Eighties are now failing to undertake preventative work to maintain black families in the first place," said Dr Barn.
An in-depth assessment of care provisions for black and Asian children, however, would never be made because of what Dr Barn called the Government's "appalling" failure to make ethnic monitoring mandatory for social services departments across the country.
This call was backed by the CRE and by Ms Collier.
"This cannot be right," she said. "It means public criticism of care services can't be based on reality because we don't know what the reality is."
Acting on Principle: An examination of race and ethnicity in social services provision for children and families, by Ravinder Barn, Dr Ruth Sinclair and Dionne Ferdinand, is available from BAAF (Pounds 12.95 plus Pounds 2 pp).