I’m rarely driven to impotent rage. Not that I never rage about anything, it’s just that normally I can do something about it. But the news reports about a “Christian” child being fostered my a Muslim family have made me feel angrier than I remember for some time. I know something about the fostering process, partly through my job and my interactions with people who are foster carers, and those whose children have been put in foster care, and partly through my experience of being a parent of an adopted child. The reality of what was written in the Times report of a Christian child being fostered by a Muslim family is so far removed from the deeply xenophobic misreporting that I truly begin to despair of a section of our society which can still, after years of multiculturalism and tolerance, manage to be so unremittingly, blatantly, proudly, racist. The report in the times was racist – there is no other word for it. The report of August 28th claimed that the child had had her crufix taken away from her and that she had been encouraged to learn arabic. It said that the child was distressed. It also said that she had later told her mother that “Christmas and Easter are stupid” and that “western women are stupid and alcoholic” Her family wanted her housed with her, says the report, rather than with the arabic families.
Many papers eagerly backed up this “outrage”. The Telegraph reported “To place a Christian child with Muslim foster carers is emotionally tone-deaf”. The council of course can’t comment, because they are legally restricted from doing so. But the Times, who are also legally prohibited to, kindly informed it’s readers that “to protect the child, the Times has decided not to reveal her name”. How kind of it to obey the law.
I know only a very little of the fostering system, but I know enough to know that this reporting is so biased, so horribly prejudiced and so skewed that, whilst it may not be illegal, it is certainly a moral outrage.
On the statistics which the Times used, you might be forgiven for thinking that there were enough foster carers to go round. It said 58,000 children had been placed in care last year, and there were 62,400 approved foster carers. That doesn’t take into account that many of the foster carers are couples, so the number of households goes down to something around 45,000. Many of those are respite carers, who take children for short periods of time, weeks or days. It talks about the number of children who need foster care, ie 51,800, but does not mention that in the course of a year a child may be fostered and then put back with their families, then put back into foster care. Social workers are very, very reluctant to place children in foster care if there is a family option, because foster carers are so thin on the ground, and it is so damn expensive. Add to that that the parents still have rights over the child even when they are in foster care, so they have to be within a reasonable geographical distance, whereas the foster carers are more geographically spread, and you can imagine the pressures on a place like Tower Hamlets.
So I know that for this child to be put in foster care, there must have been something significant, and often chronic, about the situation she found herself in. Sometimes it is abuse – often the boyfriend of the mother – most often it is drug misuse. A few years ago, there were 10,000 children of drug misusers in the Glasgow area alone, and they were often in and out of care. When we adopted our son, the average number of house moves a child made before being adopted was fourteen – from parents to care, back to parents, back to foster care, to grandparents, to parents, to care, on and on.
The Times report said that the child was distressed. Of course she was distressed! She’d been taken away from a parent who was not able to look after her for whatever reason. We can’t know, but we can know that it was serious for her to be taken away from her mother, and that there were serious family issues for her not to be housed with her grandparents. This story, whosever’s interest it was in, was certainly, certainly not in the interest of the child.
The article claimed that her crucifix had been taken away, and that she had been encouraged to learn arabic. It was reported in a way which suggested that the family were not native English speakers. The foster family was in fact English speaking and of mixed race. The crucifix thing seems to have no basis in truth at all. The Daily Mail did not have a picture of the girl, so they took as stock photo of a Musilm family and added a veil to the face of the Muslim woman in the photo. Just for added inaccuracy.
When the foster care order was rescinded, and a Judge decided that the child should now reside with her Grandmother, it turned out that the Grandmother (her mother’s mother) was a (non-practicing) Muslim, who doesn’t speak English well, and needed a translation of the court documents. She desired to return to her “country of origin and foster the child there”.
So the picture should have been a picture of a mixed race child, the granddaughter of a Muslim, and first or second generation immigrant, whose mother had drug and alcohol issues.
The foster placement was always going to be temporary, while the social services assessed whether the grandparents would be a suitable family for the child to stay. Because, presumably, unlike the foster carers, the grandmother didn’t speak English.
There are many things we cannot know about this case. What we can know, unequivocally, is that the story was neither accurate, or in the best interests of the child. We can know it was written by someone who is either so prejudiced that he does not know his prejudice is showing, or so story-hungry that he will stoke up xenophobia and bigotry in order to get on the front page.
I can only imagine what it feels like to be a Muslim reading these stories. But it reminds me that we need to face the reality. We are a racist country, with a racist press. And that needs to change.