July 2021

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Equality Reference Group newsletter

July 2021

Census, Children and Families Partnership and Plan, Fostering Assessments, Covid Vaccines, Anti-racism, Performance

Items discussed

Census 2021

Census 2021

The census is a survey that happens every 10 years and gives us a picture of all the people and households in England and Wales. Local authorities such as Devon County Council use census data to monitor things like health and wellbeing outcomes. The data can be used as a comparator for representation and inclusion. Community organisations will also use data from the census to identify needs and apply for funding.

Census 2021 will be crucial to our understanding of how people in England and Wales have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and it will give us detailed information on the health, social and economic impacts on all of us. It is essential we understand the needs of different groups and communities and the challenges people are facing in order to inform future decisions and policy making.

For the first time, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) employed Community Engagement Managers to build trust in the process and to understand the differences and needs required throughout our communities.

Without the support of the community and professionals supporting people, the census would not be successful and the three engagement managers for Devon, Steve Selley, Liza Oxford and Vanessa Woods built a network of contacts and community bridges in order to try to make Census 2021 the most inclusive and complete picture of our society that they possibly could.

The introduction to DCC’s Equality Reference Group was a key part of the engagement process in Devon. Through the meetings over the months leading up to Census Day on 21 March, information was cascaded to many people through the support networks represented in the group. Moreover, the needs of those who may need extra support or encouragement to complete the census were better understood so that appropriate methods of support could be used, or messages promoting the work sent through trusted lines of communication. The added complication of a national lockdown provided the backdrop to many of the meetings with individual support groups or portfolio holders.

The information gathered from the census will be available from around January 2022 in statistical form, and the personal information is locked away for 100 years.

The Census has been a huge success this year, with a 97% completion rate, exceeding the target of 94%. The success is a credit to everyone who engaged or supported the process. Devon’s Census Engagement managers have passed on their thanks to the Equality Reference Group and would like to acknowledge the help and advice given throughout.

Children and Families Partnership and plan

At its April meeting, the ERG heard about the Children and Families Partnership and its response to support children and their families through the pandemic and beyond which was co-designed with children, young people, their parents and carers, as well as practitioners and managers of services. 

The Partnership’s purpose is: working together to ensure children and families get the right support, at the right time, and in the right place.

The three statutory partners are the County Council, Police and NHS.

Devon has an ‘Early Help system’ which means that all services that work with children can initiate an early support plan for a child and call together a team to provide extra help to children and families.

During the pandemic, Devon has seen an increase in inequalities such as children needing access to food vouchers and food banks, children suffering exploitation, mental health issues and living in families where there is Domestic Violence and Abuse.

There’s a need for everyone to work together on the solutions, including using community networks.

In June, the partnership asked: what was mostly affecting and worrying children and families during the pandemic? The response highlighted four priorities:

  • Preventing hidden harm and exploitation
  • Supporting emotional health and wellbeing
  • Supporting return to learning
  • Community focus (addressing issues in the community such as unemployment, housing and food poverty).

The partnership recognises that recovery from the impact of lockdown and COVID-19 could take a long time. The partnership wants to focus on these priorities that came across strongly from young people and build this into its Children and Young People’s Plan re-fresh in 2021:

  • Extended offer for all young people into work and training, particularly for Care Leavers and children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).
  • To work together to combat the inequalities that have been exacerbated by COVID-19, strengthening our diverse communities. 
  • Put the voice of young people at the heart of the response to the climate emergency in Devon County Council, NHS Devon CCG and Devon and Cornwall Police in response.

The ERG talked about the voluntary and community networks for young people, including faith communities and young carers, and there appeared to be a gap around ethnicity.

Other comments from ERG members:

  • Early Help has been working well for young children, but not so well for adolescents. Early Help has not been able to plug the gap in services that were cut under austerity. There are increasing needs as well as complexities of need. There’s a challenge for how we, as a partnership, respond to this. We’re now dealing with 16 and 17 year- olds who have known ‘nothing but austerity’. (Young Devon)
  • Need to improve communication across the system – not just statutory agencies but also in reaching communities.
  • There’s not enough support and activities for young people. YMCA had shown that £1bn has been stripped out of adolescent youth services nationally. Organisations are spending a lot of time working in a broken system.
  • Young people presenting as homeless have far more complex needs and lack of support structure than those presenting ten years ago.
  • Black Lives Matter was largely run by young people and could provide opportunities for connecting with young people.
  • Disability youth support (outside of statutory/school provision via the EHCP) is unclear and would benefit from further research.

Fostering Services - Identity and Diversity Assessment

family group

The ERG met members of the team who recruit and assess Foster Carers in Devon.

The team works with potential Foster Carers from the point of initial enquiry through to training and assessment. The whole process can take around six months. The assessment process involves a lot of checks that goes alongside the work to prepare people for fostering. It’s an intense process which explores upbringing, employment, backgrounds and views of potential Foster Carers. The aim is to find the best possible people for children and young people who can provide care in a therapeutic way.

Equality and diversity is explored throughout the process with particular attention paid under the Identity and Diversity section of the assessment document.

Research shows there are certain personal attributes which make a more successful Foster Carer including empathy, encouragement, resilience and durability. The areas to assess are set by government, but there are options for local authorities to choose which materials are used.

The materials under the Identity and Diversity section were out of date and did not reference current thinking around equality, diversity and inclusion. Black Lives Matter triggered conversations in the team about experiences of racism and there was a recognition of the need for Foster Carers to be active and supportive bystanders.

Foster Carers are given a copy of the document (which includes, for example, links to videos) in advance, and this is used as a basis for conversation with the social worker. There isn’t an expectation for people to know all the information already or to ‘be free from bias’ (because we all have bias). Overall, the assessment will look for people who are open minded, willing and able to learn (not concrete thinkers) and this is an important part of the assessment around identity and diversity.

The ERG were given a copy of the document in advance to review and feedback in the meeting.


  • Does devotion to a particular faith equate to ‘concrete thinking’? What about proselytization or homophobia/transphobia? Answer: Foster Carers would be expected to be able to meet the faith or other needs of a child/young person if their faith is different and being devoted to a particular faith does not preclude people from being Foster Carers. The team would explore whether carers would be open to going to different faith centres and supporting the child’s engagement in faith-based activities and learning aligned to the child’s faith, for example. The team would be concerned about proselytization and ‘phobic attitudes. The document allows the team to draw out people’s belief systems as part of the assessment process.
  • Are children placed in similar faith background families? Answer: if there is a foster family available this would be taken into account, but there are many aspects that are taken into account when matching children and young people with Foster Carers.
  • What happens if the young person has strong, ‘unhealthy’ beliefs such as White Supremacy? Answer: some of those beliefs may come from their birth families and heavy criticism could affect self-esteem and be problematic on their development. Instead, there will be a focus on positive role modelling and presenting a different view of life, then discussing their beliefs as the bond strengthens. If it became a concern, such as exposure to extremism, the case can be escalated to Prevent through the social worker.
  • In the past, a young person in care could request to be fostered by LGBT Foster Carers, what happens now? Answer: a child’s views are taken into account and considered alongside other aspects of need. DCC has a cohort of LGBT Foster Carers and has actively recruited from LGBT communities.
  • How confident are staff to have these discussions – particularly around ‘gender not being a binary concept’ and ensuring they are not bringing own biases or lack of knowledge into the discussion? It’s often about having the language to explore and challenge. Answer: really good point and the team is currently exploring what training needs would arise as a result of improvement to the document.

Suggested improvements and comments from the ERG:

  • Great intent and approach.
  • Disability isn’t mentioned in the first paragraph even though it is covered later on (editorial comment).
  • The reference to 2012 in respect of faith is out of date.
  • Information about gender identity and reassignment needs to be strengthened as this is a particular area where people need more information.
  • It’s very important for young people to be able to request an LGBT+ Foster Carer because visibility and role modelling in rural areas such as Devon can be challenging. Young people may feel they are “the only gay person” in their area. It’s very therapeutic for young LGBT+ people to live with others who are LGBT+.
  • Sexuality encompasses all kinds of sexual behaviour. If referring to being straight, lesbian, gay or bi, then use the term ‘sexual orientation’ (which focusses on attraction) and not ‘sexuality’.
  • Race aspects are well covered and challenging in the document, but the other areas need more detail. Understanding racism doesn’t necessarily mean that a person has an ability to tackle other aspects of discrimination and inequality.
  • Young people are presenting in large numbers with difficulties in gender identity and extreme dysphoria; this has been heightened during lockdown where children have been forced to live in the family home under the gender they do not identify with. Part of growing up is exploring gender and sexual orientation and this needs to be covered in the document alongside highlighting issues of isolation.
  • Gender equality aspects also need to be strengthened including topics such as ‘toxic masculinity’, misogyny and sexualised attitudes, harassment and violence towards women.
  • Use of non-gender specific toys is included, but gender stereotyping can arise in all sorts of things including conversations and role modelling such as how roles are divided in the home.
  • Include reference to the Devon Faith and Belief Forum website as a resource on faiths and beliefs in Devon.
  • Disability covers changing public perceptions of people living with disability but also needs to include self-acceptance of living with a disability. It is necessary to engender internal positivity and independence around disability in young disabled people.
  • Book recommendations to add: How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran, and books which explore gender by Meg-John Barker.

Other information

Equality issues highlighted as part of Devon’s COVID-19 Vaccination Programme

Covid-19 symbol

The importance of reaching out to people from across Devon, where communities of interest appear more ‘vaccine hesitant’, had been recognised as needing new and collaborative approaches with the Voluntary and Community and Social Enterprise (VCSE) Sector.

To this end, the DCC Lead Officer for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, joined by Diana Crump, CEO Living Options Devon (a disability user-led charity and representative of the Equality Reference Group) as members of the Mass Vaccination Inequalities Cell. They have been helping to ensure the voice of vulnerable and minority groups are being listened to. This work has focussed on two key areas: Communications and Community Partnerships. Diana says:

“We have worked together to help to ensure that between us, we can provide information about the vaccination programme, and what the risks/benefits might be, in accessible formats including different languages. We know there are still some gaps and are currently working hard to address these both at national and local level.

In response to the very rapid vaccination roll out, Diana has also been sending out weekly briefings through the VCSE Reference Group explaining what will happen next regarding the roll out of the vaccination programme and what it means for them. The idea being for local community groups to update their staff, volunteers and beneficiaries.

These new partnerships have now enabled vaccinations to be offered at a ‘pop up’ vaccination site at the Mosque in Exeter. Similarly, homeless people have been supported to receive the vaccine in collaboration with Co-Lab Exeter. A mobile vaccination bus is been used to reach some people who might find it difficult to attend the Mass Vaccination Centres.

Further conversations are on-going with other members of the Equality Reference Group to provide more opportunities for people who we haven’t reached to be vaccinated. For example: the Intercom Trust have highlighted the difficulties for LGBTQ+ people standing in queues whilst waiting for a vaccination and we are in the process of exploring other more helpful options for them; people from Bulgaria are recognised as a vaccine hesitant community due to misinformation about the vaccine being circulated on social media. We are working with VCSE local support groups to establish how to translate evidence based data into their language; Living Options Devon have highlighted the challenges for people whose first or preferred language is British Sign Language when accessing vaccination services and Plymouth; and Devon Racial Equality Council (PDREC), DCC and Health are in the process of establishing how we might increase trust in the vaccine amongst refugees and asylum seekers.

We are also providing specific feedback into the sub-group considering the needs of people with Serious Mental Illness, learning disabilities and neurodivergent people such as autistic and ADHD people, as there is much evidence to suggest the uptake within these groups is lower than average.

An important part of this work has been the development of an Equality Framework, led by colleagues in the NHS, providing tips and support options for Devon based vaccination centres to ensure all groups are considered when designing and providing services.

Moving forwards, this inclusion work is now recognised as relevant in supporting a range of other services to provide more accessible services working with those organisations who are closest to some of the hardest to reach groups.

The work of the Inequalities Cell has been recognised nationally as best practice”.

Race Equality Audit

Devon County Council has commissioned a Race Equality Audit and invited three anti-racism leads from Devon's Black and Asian communities as community observers to carry out the review through focus group interviews with Members and officers from across the authority and a desktop review. Feedback is expected in the autumn.

The County Council set the scope of the review based upon Local Government Equality Framework methodology. The project team includes the three local (external) community observers and three DCC officers, including the Lead Officer for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.

The purpose of the review is to understand DCC's approach to addressing systemic racism and advancing racial equality and inclusion. The review will run alongside a Cultural Competency Mentoring Programme ('Let's Explore Race') which paired ethnically diverse members of staff with the Leadership Team to increase their understanding of race and how to be anti-racist.

In July, DCC’s Chief Executive sent a message to staff - I want us to be intolerant of racism

Race Disparities Report

The Equality Reference Group suggests organisational leaders repudiate the report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities, published 31 March 2021. The ERG feels that the report does not add value to work on anti-racism, has horrified people, and has affected people’s confidence in using terminology around race and ethnicity, therefore potentially silencing debate.

Celebrating Windrush Day

Windrush Day 2021

The vital role British African-Caribbean people played in rebuilding a devastated post-war Britain, and the subsequent challenges faced by their descendants, was celebrated and recognised in June as the Devon Windrush flag was raised at DCC’s County Hall for the first time.

Find out more:

Devon County Council marks Windrush Day

DCC Equality Performance Report April 2020 to March 2021

DCC’s equality objectives are published at DCC corporate equality objectives

Find out about progress at March 2021: Equality Performance Report April 2020 to March 2021.


Democracy and Transparency

Coming up

Member development

County Hall, Exeter

The ERG will be taking part in a training workshop on Understanding Devon's Diverse Communities for Members (Councillors) in the autumn as part of the Induction Programme. All Members are invited to the event.

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