In March, a five-year-old girl was taken from her mother’s care by police and placed into emergency foster care. It was later claimed that the mother of the five-year-old girl, child AB as she is known in court documents, was distressed that she had been placed into foster care with a couple of Islamic heritage, despite child AB being born into a Christian household. The furore surrounding child AB was caused by a vitriolic front-page article in the Times headlined “Christian child forced into Muslim foster care”. Despite the salacious and misleading inference behind the headline, it can be used to highlight the national shortage of foster homes available in the UK.
Whilst local authorities have to consider a child’s religion, racial origin and cultural background when making decisions about their foster care, the local council stated that there were “no culturally matched foster placement available.” Debbie Jones, corporate director of Children’s Services in Tower Hamlets, told the Independent: “Once the decision was taken to place the child into temporary care, we had to find the best placement available at the time. While cultural background is always a significant consideration in making this decision, so too are other factors including remaining in the local area to promote contact with the child’s family and for the child to continue at the same school in order to give them as much stability as possible.”
We are on the cusp of a crisis. The number of foster carers available to local councils has been shrinking year-after-year. This is despite the number of children in care incrementally increasing since the Baby P tragedy in 2007. A recent study by The Fostering Network estimates that nearly 64,000 children live with almost 55,000 foster families in the UK and that fostering networks need to recruit a further 7,180 foster families in the next 12 months to meet the growing demand. Those children who then come through the foster-care system are twice as likely, as adults, to raise children who themselves become foster-care statistics. The demands on the system will only continue to grow. There is concern amongst fostering charities that the councils’ approvals panels are under such pressure to recruit more carers that they will approve people who might have previously been considered unsuitable for the role.
Foster-care plays such an important role in our society with family based, substitute care being the most effective way of providing vulnerable young people with a warm, safe, attentive and nurturing experience. However, the shortage of new foster recruits raises questions over the quality of service local councils can realistically provide. Increased government funding is essential to the promotion of a healthy and successful national foster-care system. Foster carers are pillars of the community, whose selfless and professional work gives children in peril a safe environment in their time of need. Unfortunately, the article from the Times did not have the best interests of the foster-care system at heart, instead it was playing on cultural tensions to create a sensationalist story; the Times are now being investigated by IPSO (Independent Press Standards Organisation).