THE placing of a child from a Christian family with Muslim foster carers has highlighted the need for more foster carers from a range of backgrounds, and the importance of equipping them to meet children’s spiritual needs, charities have said.
The Times reported on Monday that Tower Hamlets council had placed a five-year-old girl, a native English speaker from a Christian family, with two successive Muslim foster carers. In confidential local authority reports seen by the newspaper, a social-services supervisor described the child as “very distressed”, claiming that one of the foster carers had removed her necklace, which had a Christian cross, and also suggested that she should learn Arabic.
The foster placements were made against the wishes of the girl’s family. In both cases, the primary carer wore a face veil in public.
On Tuesday, the girl was placed in her maternal grandmother’s care, after a judge ruled that it was in her best interests to be with her family, who could meet her needs “in terms of ethnicity, culture and religion”. Judge Khatun Sapnara said that The Times had raised “very concerning” matters of “legitimate public interest”. The council’s legal representative said that no white British foster carers had been available when the girl was first taken into care.
Papers from the court hearing published on Wednesday state that the child was placed by social services with foster carers in March on “an emergency basis”, and “as a result of the police exercising their powers of protection. There was no culturally matched foster placement available at the time.”
The child’s legally appointed guardian, who has visited the child and spoken to her alone, was reported as having “no concerns as to the child’s welfare, and she reports that the child is settled and well cared for by the foster carer”, the court papers say.
During the hearing, the mother expressed further concerns about the foster carers, which the court has asked the council to address.
The child’s grandmother, assessed as a suitable carer, has said that she wishes to return to her country of origin and care for the child there. While documents state that she and the child’s maternal grandfather are of a Muslim background and non- practising, the child’s mother says they are of Christian heritage. The court papers also note that the mother’s statement will be translated into the language spoken by the maternal grandmother.
They express the court’s concern that photographs of the child and foster carer have been published in the press.
Earlier this week, a spokesman for Tower Hamlets council defended the placement, saying that: “In every case, we give absolute consideration to our children’s background and their cultural identity.” The council has also spoken of inaccuracies in news reports, stating that the child was fostered by an “an English-speaking family of mixed race in this temporary placement”.
The office of the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, confirmed this week that it would be contacting the council to find out why the decision was made. She said: “I am concerned at these reports. A child’s religious, racial, and cultural background should be taken into consideration when they are placed with foster carers.”
The Children’s Act (1989) states that local authorities must give “due consideration to the child’s religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background”. The National Minimum Standards for Foster Care state that foster parents “must provide care which respects and preserves each child’s ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic background”.
In a letter to The Times on Wednesday, the director of Home for Good, a Christian charity that promotes adoption and fostering, Dr Krish Kandiah, said that the case was “a reminder that the Government needs to back all attempts to recruit a diversity of foster carers”. It highlighted “the need for faith literacy in foster care, so that social workers and foster carers are equipped to assess, understand, and help to meet the spiritual needs of children in care”. He had met foster carers from Muslim, Christian, and atheist backgrounds, “all of whom were doing a brilliant job of caring for children in need”.
Elaine Dibben, a consultant for CoramBAAF, which supports local authorities and fostering agencies, said on Wednesday that it was not always possible for councils to find a “perfect match” for children in need of foster care, particularly in cases when a same-day placement was required. There were multiple considerations to be made, including keeping the child in the local area, religion, language, and ethnicity.
In some cases, children could be moved if a better match was then found; or, if the placement was working well, additional support could be provided to mitigate against areas where there wasn’t a “perfect match”. This could include providing the family with literature, or linking them with members of the local community that shared the child’s background. This was the case with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, many of whom were Muslim but placed in non-Muslim families.
Initiatives were under way across the country to recruit more carers from a range of backgrounds, she said. There was a particular need for carers for teenagers, large sibling groups, and children with disabilities. “We still need more foster carers for a whole range of children from different backgrounds and faiths.”
In total, 90 per cent of local authority foster carers are white, as are 79 per cent of their looked-after children. In Tower Hamlets, 31 per cent of residents are white, as are 24 per cent of looked-after children. In 2008, white households were among the groups from which it sought to recruit potential foster carers.
This year, Ofsted rated the council’s children’s services as “inadequate”, citing “widespread and serious failures in the services provided to children who need help and protection in Tower Hamlets”. It stated: “Most children in care live in good foster homes, but there are not enough families who can offer homes to older children.” In 2012, the fostering service was rated as good, with “outstanding” outcomes for children, who reported exceptionally high levels of satisfaction”. The report concluded that “children’s identities and culture are celebrated”.
The Fostering Network estimates that 7600 new foster families are needed to meet the need in the UK adequately. The Muslim Foster Network seeks to recruit Muslim foster carers and to educate non-Muslims who find themselves caring for Muslim children, many of whom, it says, “struggle to provide an appropriate diet, mother language, religious teaching, understanding of customs, values, etiquettes stemming from cultural heritage, all of which leads to a loss of identity and problems in later life for the child”.
The network reports that last year, in one area — Brent — there were 44 Muslim children in need of care, but just four Muslim foster carers available to assist.
Government figures state that nine local authorities report have no long-term foster carers from minority-ethnic groups.