There are many twists and turns in the recent story of a five year old Christian girl who was ordered to leave her Muslim Foster parents and live instead with her grandmother. This is an issue that inevitably attracted acres of both newsprint and online coverage. It is unusual since there is a longstanding shortage of foster carers drawn from ethnic minority backgrounds meaning that non-white youngsters are usually placed with white British carers. The reverse situation, as in this controversial case, is far less common.
The commissioning local authority, Tower Hamlets, was put under immediate pressure to explain the situation. The controversy was fuelled, as when contacted by the Times newspaper, there was a refusal to explain why the authority had chosen to place a white English-speaking Christian child with Muslim non-English-speaking foster carers. So the story went, the child was encouraged to abandon her Christian traditions and values in favour of Muslim ones: enough to foment reaction of all kinds. The council commented on there being ‘inaccuracies’ in the story and that they were, in any case, unable to respond due to legal restrictions. The story has more or less ended with Judge Khatun Sapnara re-examining the case at a family court hearing and making the decision that the girl should live with her grandmother.
Foster care should be making the news for the right reasons
This is, in many ways, a story for our times: where there is controversy there are newspaper sales to be had. The maxim bad news travels faster than good news, is still proving to be an enduring truth. Most people in the general population have little understanding of foster care: if they ever give it any thought, their understanding is vague and uncomprehending. And yet, in our era of austerity, the immediate costs to the public purse of family breakdowns are prodigious. The long term costs are even more mind numbing – yet these facts don’t seem to generate the coverage they should.
On one very simple level, the acute shortage of foster families – now standing at over 9,000 – should excite the interest of the press on a weekly basis. Children; apart from the elderly, are the most vulnerable members of society. That is something all would agree upon. And if this shortage of families was kept in the public mind, doubtless there would be a groundswell of opinion wanting action to be taken. What is depressing is that this particular story played, as was expected, to the excitable and suspect attitudes of the ‘mob’. We live in times where prejudice and intolerance can be easily fanned. Where are the stories of foster carers from ethnic backgrounds who do such valuable work in caring for vulnerable children? Well, these are going to be less interesting – a fact which should be resisted. There have been many debates over the years as to the importance of a free press. These have centred around suspicions that politicians are always on the verge of curtailing press freedoms. The argument has always been about the public’s right to know: and this should be safeguarded for obvious reasons. But surely with freedom comes responsibility. If our press is to be regarded as ‘The Fourth Estate’, then the concept of power without responsibility, should perhaps be looked at in a new and contemporary light. There are many aspects to measuring press freedom – whether reporters are genuinely free to follow any story they wish – irrespective of editorial, proprietorial or commercial pressures.
In the 21st century, we should perhaps be challenging our press to justify their freedoms by insisting they behave in a responsible manner. Going back to this particular story, was it responsible to report this story in such a manner? Arguments may rage back and forth, but there is a better test – and example of how such a story should have been reported. This is to be found in the cool and measured analysis provided by the chief executive of The Fostering Network. Kevin Williams has called for –
“a moment’s considered reflection on some of the very important issues the story raised.”
Society would be in a better place generally, if journalists, perhaps gave; in acknowledgement of the freedoms they enjoy, a few moments considered reflection to the way a story is reported. The cry always goes up that the public has a right to be informed – and of course they do. The point that needs to be made is that they deserve to be informed in a manner that gives them the full and proper context. The article written by Kevin Williams does exactly that: it is an excellent counterpoint to much of the reporting around this recent story. It is the kind of response that needs to be disseminated to the far wider audience who are not familiar with the complexities of fostering provision.
Matching and the dynamics of cross cultural foster care
Kevin Williams was right to focus, in the aftermath of this controversy, on how it is actually decided which foster family a child will be placed with. There is much clarity when it is realised that, although finding a stable placement for a child is complex, the overriding principle is that any decision is based on identifying which foster carers will best meet their needs. In practice this means assessing a particular child’s needs and sourcing the right match. These needs will include education, health, interests, cultural background, religion, and language. The child’s proximity to their family and school will also be taken into account.
What makes the process so challenging is that there is no set ‘menu’ of needs. Each child is different. Decisions have to be made on a case by case basis by social workers who are familiar with the child and his or her needs. In Kevin Williams example: “a child with a particular disability may benefit from a foster carer who has specialist knowledge of that disability, even if that foster carer is from a different religion.”
Foster carer assessment, support and training are key
This story has raised important questions about how foster carers are recruited, assessed, trained and then reviewed on an ongoing basis. Recruitment itself is a lengthy process; It can take up to six months for an applicant to be approved to be a foster carer. The training will cover how prospective foster carers will work to support a child’s identity – this will include their language, religion and culture. Where potential carers themselves have strong religious beliefs, they are required to consider how they would provide effective support for a child with its own differing religious beliefs. Issues of identity and the need for foster carers to support religious observance – as well as dietary requirements – are covered in pre- approval training. As the chief executive of The Fostering Network acknowledges about the current situation:
“There are many thousands of carers across the UK, with good support from their fostering service, who have consistently gone the extra mile to support young people to stay connected with the faith and culture they were born into – even if they knew very little about that faith or culture before that young person came to live with them.”
What is true is that foster carers have the aim of providing supportive, stable and loving homes for children who, for whatever reason are unable to live with their own family. The message sent out by The Fostering Network is that we need, as never before, foster carers from all of our communities possessing a range of skills, experiences and interests so that we have a wide choice of carers available. It is this which will offer the best chance of placing a child in the best, most well matched setting to meet his or her needs.
And a final word…
According to Kevin Williams, we should not be “misled by this week’s story” for as he puts it – “Every day there are thousands of children living with foster carers who are doing something quite incredible.” It is a reflection on human nature – and by extension society as a whole – that good news stories are rarely as arresting as bad news stories. Bad news does travel fast, but its progress can be slowed by facts and reasoned argument.
Our Rainbow Rewards scheme
Are you one of those people who have been thinking about fostering for some time? Have you been putting off a decision? Perhaps now is the time to investigate the different skills you might need to foster children, foster babies or perhaps even sibling groups? Whatever your particular interest in foster care is, Rainbow Fostering is a long established London agency offering advice, support and guidance. If you are able to refer someone to be a foster carer with us, we will give you £500. The money will be paid into your account once your referral has been approved, and the first placement made. Perhaps you are already an approved foster carer now thinking of transferring: if you are, we offer a payment under our special scheme. Please note: this is for foster carers who already have children with them on a long-term basis.
Rainbow are an independent fostering agency looking to recruit people interested in developing a professional career in foster care. We are keen to speak with people regardless of their ethnicity, cultural background, level of education, marital status or sexual orientation. Please call our recruitment team on 020 8427 3355 to learn about the rewards of a fostering career with Rainbow.
And the good news at the end of this particular rainbow…we are putting the finishing touches to a series of songs produced by our talented youngsters on our music production course.
Read Rainbow’s latest news stories…
Leading foster care charity comments on the recent fostering controversy
September 4th, 2017
Controversy has raged over the case of a five year old christian girl placed in foster care with a Muslim family (more)
The post Foster care is all about matching appeared first on Fostering London - Blog.