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Are the agencies playing fair?

09 May 2014

Johanna Derry asks whether it is true that Christians are discriminated against when applying to adopt

A REPORT in The Daily Telegraph last year suggested that more than half the people who are "certain" or "very likely" to adopt describe themselves as "actively practising a religion". But many Christian couples wanting to foster or adopt are anxious that they will be discriminated against, especially if they hold conservative views on homosexuality.

The executive director of Churches in Mission at the Evangelical Alliance, Krish Kandiah, is definitive in his view. "I've come across hordes of Christians who are fostering and adopting. Christians are not being excluded. It's true that some local authorities are less faith-literate than they could be, and so sometimes Christians aren't well received.

"But, likewise, Christians don't realise that social workers don't understand Christian terminology. The most important thing is: are the children in your home are going to be safe? Any glimpse of intolerance to people from different backgrounds, and you can understand why social workers are anxious."

Norman Goodwin, the chief executive of Adoption Matters North West, an adoption agency that grew out of the diocesan adoption agencies of Blackburn and Chester, says: "Some Christians might feel homosexuality is an act they don't approve of; but is that something they could deal with in a child they might adopt? I'm edgy about people who take a hardline fundamental view on these things. I don't think they are thinking about the best interests of the child."

Lorna Edwards (not her real name) successfully navigated the adoption process with her husband to adopt her daughter. "I felt a lot of time and effort went into questions about our faith, as opposed to anything else.

"Our main thing to offer is love, and the knowledge of Jesus Christ; but to try and explain that to someone without a personal faith might be unhelpful. We decided not to go into it with crosses emblazoned on our foreheads. The homosexuality question we answered in a way that didn't need to go further: we would love our children whatever path they chose.

"But the first line of the report, which goes to the panel who make the decision, said: 'They are Christians, but they don't evangelise.' We felt it wasn't discrimination so much as lack of knowledge. Social workers have a hard job assessing people's fitness to have children; so we tried to be fair to them by not going in depth into things that might be misunderstood."

"Discrimination is often difficult to quantify," a social worker and adoptive parent, Linda Liddell, explains. "Social workers who have no personal experience of faith often find it hard to grasp. People may make the assumption that their faith will be seen negatively, and social workers may assume that a rigid system of belief leaves no room for manoeuvre."

Mr Goodwin agrees that it is more often that faith is lost in translation rather than a case of outright discrimination. Her agency, she says, understands people of faith, and is able to act as a "mediator and translator. But adoption is primarily a service for children, not adults. People with no faith who have a hard line on issues such as sexuality and corporal punishment also wouldn't be able to adopt. Adoption is about finding all kinds of families for all kinds of children."

"Having faith can help you care for children from families of faith, because you understand how important their beliefs are," Paul Woodman, a foster carer and church leader in Southampton, says. He led a campaign among faith communities in the city to find homes for more than 40 foster children, after a request by the council for more families with an active faith.

"Social services need people to take someone into their home, include them, and value them," he says. "The Christian value of inclusiveness is really important."

Increasing literacy in the language of faith is part of the work of the Church-based Home for Good campaign, which will launch as a charity in October. "There's no cheat to get round the system," Mr Kandiah says, "but we do want people to be assessed fairly and properly.

"There are around 6000 children who have been neglected and abused, along with their siblings, whose life chances if they stay in care aren't great. This country needs 9000 foster parents.

"Collectively, [the charities who launched Home for Good] have a reach of 15,000 churches. If one family in every church fostered, we could meet that need."

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