Class of ′78: Anne Cherry

By Anne Cherry

| 19 March 2019

I first worked in Southall during the time of the riots and was immediately challenged by the need to build a considerable understanding of the culture customs experience needs of the Punjabi community.

I was faced with using interpreters and the advice of Asian colleagues to assist me with both language and culture.

On a more positive note in Southall it was in the era where there was more preventive work then I have ever experienced since. We worked very hard with parents to keep children at home and safe with them and families. This required close networking with schools and all sorts of local services.

There followed 13 years in Brent as a team leader where I worked predominantly in black African Caribbean communities. When I arrived in 1982 there was not a great deal of thought being given to the needs and aspirations of the communities we served.

I was very conscious of my position as a white female manager operating within a largely black African Caribbean community. I found being the sole female among an otherwise male management group oppressive, often feeling marginalised. Reflecting on my own feelings of being in a minority within the management team and later being a white minority within the entire staff group, told me a lot about the negative experiences that oppressed people encounter when engaging with external systems. It was only during my last years in Brent that I felt that systems were in place which did not consistently deny the local black population opportunity to be empowered and make their own choices.

I returned to frontline practice in Hemel Hempstead and then in 2000 I experienced an overwhelming desire to return to my own roots in the north of the country. I relocated from London to Darlington and later North Yorkshire children's services where I worked in a children in care and leaving care team until retirement in 2016.

My most heartbreaking professional reflection from the early years was the use of the 1980 Child Care Act to secure parental rights resolutions when children had been in "voluntary" care for six months, through a brief report to councillors. There was no court case, no proper opportunity for parents to be involved. The language used, "have persistently failed, without reasonable cause, to discharge the obligations of a parent", haunts me to this day, with the judgmental tone and lack of recognition of the rights of parents or children.

When the Children Act 1989 was implemented we finally had one cohesive act encompassing both private and public law and focusing on partnership with parents, greater interagency collaboration and involving children in agreed plans, which was so welcome.

I've worked for 40 years in frontline practice and my most abiding memories reflect the huge social changes I have seen over this time: the growing resistance of teenage girls in Southall to comply with marriages arranged by their parents; the Hitler salutes given by members of the National Front in Southall as they climbed the town hall steps on the day of the Southall "riots"; the palpable excitement in Brent when the new Hindu temple neared completion in Neasden; the tensions and despair in Brent following the death of Jasmin Beckford.

A real reminder that social work takes place in a social and political context.

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