The Murdoch Times has a front-page story today exposing a ‘scandal’ in which a young “white, Christian” girl was placed by Tower Hamlets council’s social services into the care of a Muslim foster family in which the wife wears the niqaab (which they explain is indicative of “Wahhabi” beliefs, which is not true) and which has not allowed her to wear a cross on a chain around her neck or eat pork in the house and encouraged her to learn Arabic; the current foster carer supposedly wears a “burka” (a term nobody uses here, and the garments known as burkas abroad are not worn here) which covers her whole face when outside. The Times’s version of the story is paywalled, but the Daily Mirror has published a paraphrase of the story which, like the Times’s version, takes the family’s and the anonymous “supervisor’s” tales at face value; we may consider the possibility that they are not telling the whole truth (as is often the case with aggrieved families that run media campaigns against social workers, something that journalists should be aware of in the light of the Ellie Butler case) or that neither the girl nor the foster family actually exist. The girl has apparently spent a total of six months in two separate Muslim foster homes in the second of which the mother wears a so-called burka which covers her whole face when outside. (More: Transparency Project.)
The girl has not been identified, as is usual when reporting on childcare cases; the paper has also given us no details of the circumstances leading to the girl being taken into care, ostensibly also to protect the child’s identity. (In cases where protecting a child’s identity has been really important, as in the case of Ellie Butler’s surviving sibling, papers have been forbidden to even disclose the sex of the child, but it pulls extra heartstrings among bigots to mention that it’s a little white Christian girl.) There are a host of reasons why a child might be taken into care, some of them entirely innocent (e.g. one of the parents is off the scene and the other is sick and there are no other family members who can care for the child), but they include inadequacy or abuse on the part of the parent(s), such as neglect, drug use or addiction, failing to make sure they attend school or to make other arrangements, or bringing “risky adults” into the home who have a history of domestic violence or other behaviour that makes them unsuitable to be around a child; these are the usual reasons why a child may be in foster care “against their family’s wishes”. We do not know why this girl is not with another family member, as they are generally given priority over foster carers simply because they are not strangers to the child and may do the job for free, and because someone else will always need the foster place, whether within the borough or outside. As with any other case where a social service department is criticised, they are unable to respond because the child’s privacy is paramount and the Times exploits this.
The fact that she was placed with a Muslim family locally demonstrates that the council considered it more important that she live close to her family than with a culturally more similar family a long way away, where she may not have been able to get to school and where seeing her mother or other family members may have been more difficult. I find it difficult to believe that the girl was really that distressed that she could not wear a cross on a chain, but then, many schools, including church-run schools, do not allow jewellery, even ear studs, for safety reasons. I don’t think it unreasonable that they did not allow her to eat pork under their roof, although maybe they should cook her something similar without pork (Muslims do eat pasta), and that arose when the mother gave the girl spaghetti carbonara, a pasta dish containing bacon, to take back to the foster home; it’s possible that this was done to cause trouble. The reports claim that the girl cried and begged not to be sent back to the foster home, but this may have simply been because she wanted to live with her mother. It’s understandable that she was upset about being uprooted from her home and sent to live with a family where the way of life was different, but this is inevitable with foster care.
The Times also quotes an anonymous social work ‘expert’ as saying it was “unforgiveably irresponsible” to place a child from an English-speaking family in a foster home where another language is spoken on a day-to-day basis. Why? If a child from a non-English-speaking home needs foster care, a council will look for a similar household but if there is none, an English-speaking one will have to do, and perhaps this was the case here as well. Refugees who arrive as unaccompanied minors from countries where English is nobody’s first language are routinely fostered in English-speaking homes. Learning a new language, be it Arabic, French or any other, is always of benefit; why is it always English speakers who assume they are above learning anyone else’s language? I have never seen the Times complain about the opposite happening, whether the issue is language or religion. Muslim friends tell me there is a shortage of Muslim foster carers, and thus when a Muslim child needs a foster carer and there is no family member deemed suitable, a non-Muslim has to do. Do they try to feed them pork? (I do know this has happened in the US.) Haven’t read it in the Times, but …
I saw a thread (starting here) on Twitter posted by a Muslim lady whose parents are foster carers. She writes:
Appalling article from The Times & co on fostering. As someone whose parents have been Muslim foster carers for 25+ years (caring for children from all faiths & backgrounds) … I can attest first hand to the dedication, commitment and struggles of the foster care system. Yes it is an imperfect system, but in the absence of anything better surely the discussion should be about the pressures on local authorities, the increase of children in care, and how to promote families of all backgrounds to step up to be carers rather than suggesting those who wear the Burka have some nefarious agenda.
The accusations here amount to v little. Yes LAs should try to match each child to a family with a similar ethnic and faith background, but with limited carers this can not always be achieved. What is of utmost importance is ensuring the child is in a safe environment. I struggle to believe carers, who are required to undergo extensive training and complete regular comprehensive reports, didn’t speak English. This would have been flagged up much earlier - what is more likely is the family spoke an additional language at home. If one was to flip the situation I know of Muslim children being placed in houses where there has been no religious accommodation, and children have been fed pork/non halal meat, prayer hasn’t been accommodated and more. But the safety of the child was paramount.
Nearly every child we have looked after has cried saying they want to go home at first. Many of these same children have then cried upon the placement ending saying that this [my house] is now their home and they don’t want to leave. Now I am not denying that there are bad apples or suggesting that every carer is perfect. We have all heard the horror stories - but what articles such as these serve to do is once again marginalise Muslims who wish to give back and help wider society, and most likely dissuade them from stepping up to serve.
The story has been circulated not only to other British papers but to right-wing hate sites abroad such as Breitbart. I find the claims that the girl would quote her foster carer as saying “European women are stupid and alcoholic” difficult to believe; that doesn’t sound like something a five-year-old would say. Accusing a minority of harming the precious, defenceless children of the majority is a classic trope of racists and bigots down the centuries; consider how Jews were accused of eating the blood of Christian children and Gypsies were accused of “stealing children”. Here we have a ‘respectable’ newspaper, once regarded as the “newspaper of record”, emphasising that a “white, Christian girl” was placed with a Muslim family because her own family could not look after her, and what horrors were visited on her — she heard another language spoken, she couldn’t eat pork, she couldn’t wear a necklace with an offensive symbol, as her hosts saw it, on it.
Councils are crying out for foster carers and in almost every borough, inside and outside London, they are advertising for families to come forward, yet when a family takes in a child they are attacked on the front page of a national newspaper for having rules that the child and their normal family dislike. Who will want to do it if it exposes them and their whole community to hate? What’s “unforgiveably irresponsible” is not the placement but this story, and it exposes the Times yet again as not a paper of record but a biased and bigoted tabloid rag.
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