Multiracial children are the fastest-growing youth group in the U.S. What do social workers need to know about serving and helping this diverse cohort?
Social workers help a range of clients from different ethnicities and backgrounds, and their most vulnerable charges are often the children they serve, with multiracial children being no exception.
Research suggests that multiracial youth and children may have different needs to others, with some of these problems centering around ethnic identity, self-esteem and racial discrimination.
However, while this research is one indicator, it’s important for social workers to understand that all of their clients will experience their ethnicity and background in different ways. No two clients will be the same, and each child or youth needs to be served with cultural humility and awareness.
So what considerations do social workers need to keep in mind when serving multiracial children, and why is this more important than ever?
Who Are America’s Multiracial Children?
After the most recent U.S. census, the New York Times said that America is now home to 50 percent more multiracial children than in 2000. In 1970, among babies living with two parents, only 1 percent had parents who were different races from each other. By 2013, the proportion had risen to 10 percent.
In fact, multiracial children are now the largest demographic group among U.S. citizens under the age of 18, with the rate of interracial marriages growing rapidly since the historic 1967 Supreme Court decision to overturn the state bans on interracial marriage in Loving v. Virginia.
What Issues Could Multiracial Children Face?
Research cited by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) found that multiracial children do not differ from other children in self-esteem, comfort with themselves, or number of psychiatric problems. It also found that multiracial children and youth tend to be high achievers, exhibiting a strong sense of self and a tolerance for diversity.
However, the AACAP also states that multiracial children may cope with society biases by developing a public identity with the “minority” race, while maintaining a private interracial identity with family and friends.
This may differ depending on the child. Multiracial children within the same family may have different racial identities from one another, influenced by individual physical features, family attachments and support and experiences with racial groups.
Psychology graduate student Astrea Greig, who examined multiracial Americans as part of her research, says multiracial youth and mixed families often experience unique types of discrimination and microaggression.
“Among the multiple types [of discrimination], one is exclusion or isolation, in which multiracial people are excluded due to their mixed status,” she writes. “For example, an Asian and white biracial child may not be treated as equally as his or her monoracial siblings or cousins at family gatherings by disapproving distant relatives.
“Another type is assumption of being monoracial, or mistaken identity. For example, a child at a school telling jokes targeted toward black Americans to a biracial black and white child. The child assumes the biracial child is white and therefore feels it is ‘okay’ to say the jokes, which are actually offensive to the biracial child.”
How Can Social Workers Help?
As the number of multiracial children continues to rise, social workers will be increasingly called on to develop multiracial competence, an essential skill for any practicing social worker.
As part of this skill development, how can social workers better understand the multiracial children in their care, and encourage positive behaviors that will yield long-term results?
Experts believe that children who identify with both parents’ heritages and cultures from an early age will have fewer identity problems and therefore enjoy stronger self-esteem and resilience. Indeed, research shows that children who develop a multiracial identity generally grow up to be happier than multiracial children who grow up with a single-race identity.
Social workers can encourage multiracial children to understand the backgrounds and the unique cultural considerations of both of their parents’ ethnicities, while still upholding the social work lens of cultural humility and avoiding any assumptions or stereotypes.
Greig asserts that helping children develop pride in their multiracial identity is essential. “Children and adolescents may benefit from developing positive views of their multiracial identity, as research with adults show[s] that an integrated multiracial identity is a protective factor that helps psychological wellbeing,” she writes.
Understand the role you can play in this vital childhood development and better serve the multiracial children under your care. To find out more about a career in child welfare, visit our child welfare social work page.