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The multicultural adoption case

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The Times reported on Monday that a "white Christian child" was taken from her family and forced to live with strict Muslim households in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. The five-year-old girl spent the past six months in the care of two Muslim households.

Carers wear face veils

It is alleged that the first carer, with whom the girl lived for four months, wore a niqab outside the family home. The second carer is said to wear a burka, fully concealing her face, when she accompanies the child in public. The wearing of a face covering outside the home indicates adherence to a very conservative interpretation of Islam that can be contemptuous of Western values and Christianity.  It is also claimed that the foster carer removed the girl's necklace which had Christian cross, and suggested that she should learn Arabic. It is alleged that the foster carer would not allow the child to eat food that contained bacon.

According to a confidential local authority report seen by The Times, a social services supervisor described the child sobbing and begging not to be returned to the foster carer's home, saying that "they don't speak English". The child is said to have told her mother more recently that "Christmas and Easter are stupid" and that "European women are stupid and alcoholic".

Judge determines child should return to family

On Tuesday, a judge ruled that the child should not remain in the placement organised by the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. She has now been taken to her grandmother's home and the judge urged councils to seek "culturally matched placements" for vulnerable children.

Tower Hamlets council said that they "have always been working towards the child being looked after by a family member". The council's legal representative agreed in court that they should prioritise culturally matched placements, but claimed that no white British foster carers had been available when the girl initially became the council's responsibility.

Court papers reveal complexity

Court papers published on Wednesday reveal further complexities to the case. Although the child's mother says they are of Christian heritage, the maternal grandparents are assessed to be of Muslim background but non-practising. Documents are to be translated into the grandmother's language, revealing that English is not her first language. Furthermore, the grandmother has changed her mind and now says that she wishes to return to her country of origin and care for the child there.  

The Times reports that the child is British-born and a native English speaker who is understood to also speak her grandmother's language. The child did not, however, understand the Arabic often spoken in her foster carer's home. The child is reported to have Christian parents and was christened in a church.

Court told never to ban 

Judge Khatun Sapnara, a practising Muslim, ordered the council to conduct an urgent investigation into issues reported by The Times, saying that the newspaper had acted responsibly in raising "very concerning" matters of "legitimate public interest". The judge also allowed a journalist from The Times to attend the hearing after being informed that the journalist had been told that he should leave the building.

Following the hearing, a senior official at HM Courts and Tribunal Service wrote to managers at all courts in London telling them that journalists must not be banned from buildings "under any circumstances." The Times reports that a Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said "We have acted swiftly to remind all staff across the entire London area of the correct processes. We recognise the vital part the media play in ensuring justice is seen to be done, and are committed to open justice, and access and transparency across our courts."

This is a welcome move towards transparency in our family courts. Judges will still decide what can be reported, and they have the power to exclude journalists in some circumstances.

A shortage of carers?

In some areas of the country there is a shortage of foster carers from minority backgrounds which frequently leads to non-white children being placed with white British foster parents. It is less usual for the reverse to take place. Logically, the shortage of foster carers from ethnic minorities would suggest that councils should have little difficulty placing white British children with carers of similar background.

Legal responsibility

The Children Act 1989 requires that "before making any decision with respect to a child they are looking after", a local authority "shall give due consideration to the child's religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background".  There are similar requirements in the Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011. Shortages of appropriate foster carers sometimes means that any foster carer will do, regardless of cultural differences. Foster carers are then required to respect the culture and religion of the child in their care. In this case there appears to have been a serious violation of this requirement.

Council under pressure

The Times reports that Anne Longfield, the children's commissioner for England said that her office would contact the director of children's services at Tower Hamlets about this case. Robert Halfon, chairman of the Commons education committee, said the situation was "incredibly concerning" and that it was vital to establish whether the case was a one-off.

Extremist Islamic preacher hosted foster care workshop

In a related story, The Telegraph reported that an extremist Islamic preacher hosted a workshop for would-be foster carers. The event was organised on behalf of the London borough of Lewisham after the High Court ruled that the Imam concerned was an "extremist Islamic speaker" who had "promoted and encouraged religious violence".

Lewisham Islamic Centre kept Shakeel Begg in place as an Imam and a trustee after the High Court ruling in October last year. Why Lewisham Council allowed him to host the meeting on its behalf remains a mystery. It is shocking to see such a person involved in the foster care process.

Chistians barred from fostering

Back in 2011, a High Court ruling determined that Christian beliefs on sexual ethics can be a barrier to fostering and adoption. The ruling related to a dispute between married couple Eunice and Owen Johns and Derby City Council which had blocked their application to foster children because they were not willing to promote the practice of homosexuality to a young child. The Johns were supported by Christian Concern. The Equality and Human Rights Commission intervened in the case and argued that children should not be 'infected' with Christian moral beliefs. The Johns remain unable to foster, in spite of the shortage of foster carers.

Christians prevented from adopting

In another of our cases, a Christian couple was blocked from adopting children after expressing views based on their belief that children should have a mother and father wherever possible. With help from the Christian Legal Centre, the council promised to reconsider their application.

The fruit of multiculturalism

Our hearts go out to this poor girl with a complex background, who has suffered in all sorts of ways through this process. What this story shows is the complexities and difficulties that local authorities can face when trying to place children in emergency situations with suitable foster carers. Multiculturalism has created complex situations like this one where various cultures are clashing and conflicting over how this child should be cared for.

It is the foster carers who appear to be most at fault in this case for their lack of respect for the girl's Christian heritage such as it is. They appear to have clearly breached requirements to respect the religion of the child in their care. Questions should also be raised about how they were ever approved to be foster parents in the first place. Christians have been barred from fostering or adopting for their ethical views. One wonders how these Muslim carers were approved given the disrespect they appear to have shown for Christian practices.