The Times has been carrying a series of reports of a case in Tower Hamlets in which a five-year-old girl from a Christian family was placed in care with a Muslim couple. Piecing together press reports is always slightly fraught, but the story seems to be as follows. The girl, a native English speaker, has spent six months with Muslim foster-carers who allegedly removed her neck-chain and cross and refused to allow her to eat bacon. A social services supervisor for Tower Hamlets described the child as begging not to be returned to the foster family because “she doesn’t understand Arabic”.
Regulation 11 of the Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011 requires that, before making any decision affecting a child placed or to be placed with a foster parent, “due consideration” should be given to the child’s “wishes and feelings (having regard to the child’s age and understanding), and religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background.” Article 20 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child includes a similar declaration, as follows:
“1. A child temporarily or permanently deprived of his or her family environment, or in whose own best interests cannot be allowed to remain in that environment, shall be entitled to special protection and assistance provided by the State.
2. States Parties shall in accordance with their national laws ensure alternative care for such a child.
3. Such care could include, inter alia, foster placement, kafalah of Islamic law, adoption or if necessary placement in suitable institutions for the care of children. When considering solutions, due regard shall be paid to the desirability of continuity in a child’s upbringing and to the child’s ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic background” [emphasis added].
The Times reports the Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, as saying that her office would be contacting the Director of Children’s Services at Tower Hamlets about the case: “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 House of Commons is currently in recess; but Robert Halfon, Chairman of the Commons Education Committee, expressed concern and told The Times:
“I’d be equally concerned if a Muslim child who didn’t speak English was placed with a Christian foster carer whose family didn’t speak the child’s language and at times appeared to show little respect for his cultural heritage.”
No-one would suggest that placing a child in foster-care is easy: in the absence of the full facts, it would be both rash and improper to make any further comment.