That ‘Muslim Foster Carers’ Story

Article taken from with permission.

The news media is full of it today. Full of righteous indignation about the “Christian” 5-year-old “forced to live” with a Muslim foster family. Full of clickbaity, ad revenue generating glee. Just generally full of it.

Let me tell you what will happen. There will be a few more days of vitriol. Some questions will be asked, and some sort of inquiry will be made into Tower Hamlet’s children’s services which will discover that:

  • The foster carers do, in fact, speak English – it’s just not feasible that any fostering family would have made it through approvals without any English at all
  • Relying wholly on sources related to the child’s birth family (from whom this child has been removed for her safety!) is not a sensible way to approach any kind of journalism relating to child protection
  • Fostering is a challenging role which most people aren’t up for and a nationwide shortage of foster carers sometimes means that the perfect placement matches we wish for can’t always be made.
We will likely never really hear about the results of whatever inquiry takes place because by then the damage will have been done and everybody will have lost interest.


Don’t get me wrong. I would not approve of a child from a Christian home being forced to remove their cross necklace, or being forbidden from celebrating Christmas or Easter while in foster care. Part of being approved as a foster carer involves being trained in cultural awareness, and evidencing your willingness to accommodate children’s cultural and religious needs. All foster carers receive this training, and if any carer was ignoring it, then it would be serious cause for concern.


But that’s not what this story is about. And if you doubt my assertion, then let me ask you this question: a while ago, a very young Muslim child was placed in this white, Christian, English-speaking foster family where nobody followed his religion or spoke his language – why did The Times and The Mail not run a story on that? It is, unfortunately, not at all unusual for children to be placed with foster families who do not share their religion or ethnicity.


The ‘friend of the family’ who is the source of this story is quoted as saying, “she’s trapped in a world where everything feels foreign and unfamiliar. That’s really scary for a young child.”


There are currently over 80,000 children living in care away from home in the UK. Let me assure you in the strongest possible terms that every single one of them has experienced that shocking dislocation of losing everything they knew, however awful we might deem it to have been, and being thrust (or shall we say ‘forced’?) into a new and terrifying world of sounds, smells, food, rules, places and people that feels foreign and unfamiliar. No matter how good the ethnic and cultural match there’s no getting away from the fact that being removed from your family and put into foster care is a terrible trauma for the child.


When social workers are looking for a fostering family they need to consider proximity to family, friends and current school, cultural and religious needs, ability of the carers to meet a child’s specific developmental needs, possibility of placing sibling groups together and much more. In an ideal world, social workers would be able to browse through a list of available foster carers to find the perfect match for each child.


In the real world, the truth is that there is a national shortage of foster carers. My LA recently sent an email to all carers to tell us that, at that moment, they didn’t have a single fostering place available in the whole LA for any child of any age group. In the real world children sometimes come into care in emergency situations and social workers have less than a day to find somewhere safe for them. In the real world a child sometimes has to be placed in a less than perfect foster placement because there is no alternative and they are at serious risk of harm if they stay with their birth families.


If the journalists who wrote this story, or any of thepeople who have subsequently commented on it really and truly cared about this 5-year-old child, or any of the other children being cared for in our vast and creaky and cash-starved fostering system, then they would spend their time campaigning for better support for the foster carers, social workers, teachers and health professionals who care for them.


In fact, if they really and truly cared, perhaps they would train as foster carers themselves.