Sunday, 3 September 2017

Fostering resentment makes this adopter furious

Fostering was under the media spotlight this last week following a salacious news item in the Times newspaper. The 'story' (for fiction is the kindest way to describe it) was factually incorrect, designed to create discord and more than anything it was inflammatory and racist. The row centres on a 'Christian child' being placed with 'Muslim foster carers.' The biggest cause of consternation being that the female carer wore a head covering and apparently the family spoke Arabic at home. I listened to a radio interview with the Mayor of the Tower Hamlets - the council involved in the story - and then with the journalist who reported the story. Neither gave a particularly good account of themselves or inspired confidence in the system of fostering and adoption or of news gathering.

I know both Tower Hamlets Council and the fostering and adoption system in this country pretty well. Hubbie worked at Tower Hamlets during our first adoption process and when we asked to be considered as potential adopters for a child in foster care with them. Initially they told us we weren't the correct racial match with him (even though they didn't know Baby R's exact ethnicity) then overnight they changed their matching policy to prevent us from adopting him because Hubbie worked for the local authority with which he was placed. It was really cynical and when I spoke to other couples of mixed race they reported similar treatment by local authorities seeking a 'perfect match' for the children waiting for permanent families.

Now, first up the concept of a perfect match is ridiculous, but more than anything the maths just doesn't work. The number of children waiting who have unspecified ethnicity or possibly muslim parentage is disproportionate to the number of muslim families waiting to adopt them. There are, however, muslim foster carers who take any and all children who need temporary placement for whatever reason. You see fostering and adoption are entirely different things and this was not discussed in the news item about this case. A child can be placed with any available and suitable carer and their ethnicity or religion is a lesser consideration than the safety and security of the child.

Blue Bear was removed from his birth family late at night and taken to his foster carers' home. He was their first foster child and they loved him like their own. They are a Muslim family and the women wear the hijab. The children they are currently fostering are of south east asian descent and have been with them for over a year. The family make food that the children like, they speak to them in English and the girls are very attached to their foster family. When we meet up it is clear to us that they are in the best place until a permanent solution can be found for them.

The Times news story does no one any favours. It will not encourage Muslim families to apply to adopt so as they will feel they are under additional scrutiny and their motives will be questioned. The children who have been placed in local authority care will wait even longer as approved foster carers who are capable of providing a home for them will have to prove they are not 'indoctrinating' the children in their care. I've talked - often and at length - about why placing children based on religion or ethnicity is flawed at best. This is just a new and ridiculous spin on an age old problem of society finding ways to demonise people who care for children in care. The children who are already below the radar and have often experienced loss, trauma and separation before they are placed with people trained and trusted to help them.

The question of payment came up on the radio interview. Yes foster carers do get paid. I know quite a few of them now and believe me they are not paid nearly enough for the work they do and the care the provide. These are the people who have to try and explain when birth parents don't show up for long planned meetings with their children. They are the ones who might have their homes trashed, their belongings stolen and even be physically harmed by the children in their care. They are there to pick up the pieces - sometimes literally - when things don't work out for the children and they are there to advocate for them. All the while they continue to keep the children safe and produce detailed reports for the local authority. They undergo training, aseessment and ongoing checks all the while they are looking after vulnerable children. When it is time to move the children on the foster carers are not consulted or involved in decision making. I know from personal experience that they know the children far better than a social worker who visits once a fortnight (if that).

If you detect that I sound angry then you're damn right. I am furious. This kind of irresponsible reporting and doctoring of photos to prove a non existent point does nothing to help children in foster care. It does even less to address the chronic shortage of foster carers in this country. The Muslim carers who looked after my boy before he came to us are the most precious link we have to his past. They took him in at the most traumatic time of his life and they stayed up and held him close when he screamed at night. They taught him how to play with toys and to make eye contact and to trust people. They helped this little boy to become the happy and loving child we met and adopted. The appearance of the mother and the food they ate or the language they spoke are completely irrelevant. It is because they fostered him that we are able to call Blue Bear our son.

Shame on anyone who believes that the religion of a foster carer has any bearing on their capacity to care for a vulnerable child.

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