Acknowledging the role of kinship care on Windrush Day

Johanna Bernard
Thursday, June 22, 2023

This year we ‘celebrate’ the 75th anniversary of the Windrush generation.

Black kinship families face feeling unsupported, Families in Harmony warns. Picture: Stock
Black kinship families face feeling unsupported, Families in Harmony warns. Picture: Stock

Little is acknowledged about the background of kinship care within the tumultuous life journeys that brought the swath of Caribbean migrants to the shores of Britain.  Kinship care - when children cannot who live with their parents are raised by family and friends. Caribbean migrants responded to the call from the ’Mother Country’, to help rebuild Britain after the second World War.

Many of the thousands who arrived took up work in transport, manufacturing, and the NHS, much of which still holds true today.

This of course was punctuated with the fact that the welcome signs read:


A stark reminder of the challenges that were to be overcome, a dog can be recognised, the Irish can adapt and blend, but for blacks there was no hiding place.

The plan for most of the families arriving in Britain was not to remain, but engage in their ambitious five-year plan, to work, save and return home, create business, send children to good schools, buy homes, and look after their extended families.

Regrettably for the majority, this dream was never realised, having to navigate discrimination and the hostile environment, now a new reality. In a futile attempt to be accepted and assimilate, the new migrants began to discard their own traditions, values, and customs, that were the backbone, of the value system of the black family, in exchange for those of their new neighbours. 

The cost of this exchange was to come at a hefty price with untold repercussions for future generations.

Families in Harmony is the leading lived experience-led Black charity in kinship care campaigning for change through a cultural lens of lived experience trauma, and co-production of services designed with cultural sensitivity and inclusion.  

Our Campaign message and mantra, ‘IT TAKES A VILLAGE’ is the cornerstone on which migrants from the Caribbean arrived on the shores of Britain. 

Without kinship care, rebuilding Britain could never have happened, as migrant children were left with aunts, uncles, and grandparents, for durations, up to, nine years and beyond in some instances.

The enormity of these separations cannot be underestimated, with many children feeling unloved, unworthy and unwanted, harbouring the dormant effects of childhood trauma and abandonment.  

Children who remained behind when their parents answered the call to come to the mother country carry the scars of childhood separation, not only between children and parents but sibling groups also.  

There are those that were left the longest, grieving their separation, displaying natural childhood traumas and resentment. Others, whose siblings travelled to Britain before them, bear resentment to those siblings who were born in Britain; being seen as more privileged, more loved and cared for, than those born overseas.

The impact of broken attachments on subsequent generations leaves an indelible imprint on the lived experiences of Black families in Britain today, as seen within kinship care. 

The opportunities to rebuild lost bonds, in a great majority of cases could not be repaired, as toddlers left behind were now teenagers, and parent and child now strangers. 

The pressure of securing work, seeking the stability of somewhere to call home, adapting to new customs and  thoughts of lands far away, afforded little time for parents to focus or consider the needs, fears and worries of their children, now reunited. 

In the attempts to integrate and live with our new host, ‘Trauma Responses’ became the new norm, replacing tried and tested behaviours practised, learnt, and handed down from generations. These Trauma responses became narratives by which migrants adopted a different pattern of thought and behaviours to appease their situations in an attempt for acceptance and belonging.

Children were honed and drilled on ‘fitting in’ and being accepted, making sure not to upset the white man. These became the new conversations and expectations of parents wanting to make a good life for themselves and their children. 

Trauma responses: “mek sure you nah bring no police ame door” (a nigh on impossible feat, especially if you were male)

“Nah bring no shame to me, car we haffe mek, dem white people like we”.

“Mek sure you smile”, “mek sure you talk properly”, mek sure, mek sure, mek sure!!

Regretfully, these pressures to integrate came without little thought of the existing traumas that children held, resulting from their long separations from parents. 

The travesty of the Windrush lends itself to the huge numbers of black children entering the care system, representing a disproportionate seven per cent, with the overall Black population in Britain comprising a mere 2.5 per cent. 

Kinship care bears the brunt of these significantly high numbers, with the parents of these children coming from second-generation descendants, of those left behind from the Windrush legacy, regularly referred to as “barrel children”.

The reality for many Black kinship care families working with Families in Harmony echo similar stories, akin to that of their Windrush ancestors; feeling unsupported, unwelcome, overlooked and struggling to provide a reasonable standing of living, with an acute lack of appropriate services. 

The continuation of the atrocities seen within statutory services such as police, health, and education, preclude Black kinship families from seeking the help and support so desperately needed, to help themselves and the children in their care.  Alas the cycle of intergenerational trauma continues unabated at the cost of the lives of our future generations.

Families in Harmony’s position for substantive ring-fenced funding for services that are therapeutically aligned, culturally appropriate, and trusted are necessary to elevate the lived experience for Black kinship care families. These are the descendant grandchildren of the men and women who came to rebuild Britain, as the Windrush generation. Otherwise, can Windrush be a celebration, and if so for who?

Johanna Bernard is co-director of Families in Harmony, a lived-experienced led organisation, being at the forefront of leading the campaign for racial justice in the children’s social care sector, within kinship care. She is a family support practitioner, professional trainer, and trauma-informed Practitioner with over 12 years lived experience of caring for her grandchildren, as a kinship carer, following the death of her son through knife crime.

Bernard has worked for national organisations such as Mind, Home Start and Kinship, she has several years teaching in the community and further Education. Johanna has been a social activist for over twenty years, involved in local, regional and national campaigns and events to redress the racial imbalance and inequalities within education, health and social care.

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