After Seeing Kids With Matted Hair, I Taught Foster Carers About Black Haircare

Kameese Davis, 40, knew things needed to change in the care system. So she took matters into her own hands.
Kameese is the founder of haircare brand Nylah's Naturals.
Kameese Davis
Kameese is the founder of haircare brand Nylah's Naturals.

In My Story, readers share their unique, life-changing experiences. This week we hear from Kameese Davis, 40, who lives in Birmingham.

I’ve been a back-up carer for my aunty, who’s a foster carer, for the best part of 20 years now, which basically means I can offer childcare services should she ever need it.

Many of the children that would come into her care, I was responsible for caring for as well at some point – and what I realised was that for many of the biracial or Black children that came into our care, from other carers (primarily transracial placements) there was a lack of personal care for their skin and hair.

And because it was consistent, it made me realise that many of the carers didn’t have the knowledge and the skills needed to care for their hair.

We once had a sibling group – two girls and a boy – and one of the girls had eczema on her skin, which looks very different on Black children to white children. Their hair was very matted and tangled, too.

I remember these two girls saying they wished they were white because the carers they came from were white carers and, because they had the knowledge, the carer’s hair and skin was cared for and it was easier for them to care for it.

But the carers didn’t know how to look after the little girls’ hair and skin and the children internalised this as: this isn’t a care problem, this is a Black problem, and I don’t want to be Black, I want to be white.

So that was a massive thing for me because it highlighted these children hadn’t been given the opportunity to develop racial pride and racial esteem because their needs were not being met.

I’ve also heard stories from carers of Black children who’d said similar things: ‘I don’t want to be Black’, ‘I don’t like my hair’, ‘I wish it was more like yours.’

The siblings stayed with us for a couple of years and over time we started to see them showing more pride in themselves – shoulders back, head held high, more confident and communicating with people.

And that’s because they started to feel proud around their physical appearance.

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So, one of the things I made a point about doing proactively with all the children that were with us was ensuring they knew how to identify their own personal care needs.

The nature of foster care is that they could be with you for quite a long time, but equally they could go within weeks or months. I wanted to ensure that when the children left, they left with more confidence in the ability to care for their hair because there was no guarantee they’d be with a carer who had that knowledge.

One thing I’ve always been passionate about is ensuring there’s equality across the board – and one area I’d identified where there wasn’t equality was in the foster care system, so I wanted to create a project which wouldn’t just work on the individual child, but would actually work on the carers as well.

Because if the carer has the knowledge, it doesn’t matter how many children come into their home, they will have the capacity to adequately care for that child and pass on that information.

Black and mixed race children are overrepresented in the care system and there aren’t enough Black carers – so as a result they’re going to white carers, Asian carers and transracial homes, and those carers have never cared for Black hair types, which is significantly different in its structure.

And what happens is the children’s hair and physical appearance starts to decline. So while they’re having to manage and juggle the emotional difficulties of being placed in different home environments with different people, they’re also having to juggle and contend with the fact their physical needs are not being met which, for the child, leads to lack of self-esteem, lack of confidence and lack of racial esteem – knowing you belong to a certain group of people and feeling proud about belonging to that group.

So I created the Untangled Project, which looks to educate and provide resources for foster parents. We ran our first session in 2019 and now do them quarterly – my goal is to set it up as a charity.

With haircare, we look at the practical mechanisms of caring for afro hair – so one of the things is to identify the afro hair type that we’re dealing with, as there are many curl patterns, and kinks and coils that fit under the umbrella term of ‘afro’. And they all require different types of care practices to ensure the hair has what it needs.

We go through how to identify the different curl patterns and what’s required of them. Then we go through practical steps for caring: how do we wash afro hair? How do we detangle it? What are protective styles? Why are they important? What is the science of afro hair types in terms of its structure? Things like that helps them to understand what practices they need to implement to ensure it’s well-hydrated, moisturised and to reduce instances of breaking.

In terms of skin, it’s how do we adequately moisturise black skin? How do we ensure signs of eczema or psoriasis can be recognised and the child can get the medical attention they need? How do we ensure we use the right language?

We also focus on their emotional care needs, cultural needs, and what carers need to incorporate in their home environment to ensure this child’s indigenous culture is being reflected positively in that environment.

We look at hair discrimination and how that impacts on typically Black and brown people. We go over stereotypes, and conscious and unconscious biases. We look at data around colourism and what that means and how it affects darker-skinned people.

You can teach one child, but I can equally teach one foster parent who then teaches 10 children. It’s about having that reach.

In my opinion, all children, regardless of their racial identity and background, should have the same standard of care in the looked after care system.

Now yes, we have a situation where Black children are overrepresented and there’s not enough Black carers – and we’ve known that for years, that situation is what it is.

It’s slowly changing, but during that time, what can we do to ensure the children are not negatively impacted by that? One of the things is to make sure all carers are culturally competent – they can take in any child, from any background, and offer that child a good standard of care. And that’s really important.

Kameese Davis is the founder of Nylah’s Naturals and The Untangled Project. She is also the author of the children’s book, My Hair Shrinks. She was interviewed by Natasha Hinde and her answers were edited for length and clarity. To take part in HuffPost UK’s My Story series, email