I am very dubious about stories concerning Muslim foster carers in the press, allegedly depriving a five year-old Christian girl of her cultural heritage, leaving her distraught and afraid.
Prospective foster parents are heavily vetted before they are allowed to foster, as anyone who has gone through the process can attest. And in my experience, people with religious beliefs are especially scrutinised and challenged for their views on a range of thought-to-be difficult topics.
Given the emphasis on putting the needs of the child first and being mindful of cultural sensitivities in the training and assessment process, I find it extremely hard to believe that any of the claims are in fact true.
Either way, stories of this kind are hardly going to encourage Muslim families to foster, at a time when there is a great need for them to do so. Muslim children are already widely placed with non-Muslim carers, because there are too few Muslim foster placements. Indeed, I know of several Evangelical households personally, fostering children of all backgrounds, raised in a practising Christian milieu. That, of course, is a non-story, which would never make the front page of a national newspaper.
But maybe that will change because of reporting like this, when the prospect of being vilified for dressing differently or speaking a second language discourages Muslim parents from playing their part in caring for other people’s children. A job, by the way, you don’t do for the money, given the paltry allowances foster carers receive.
Maybe when there is an abject shortage of foster carers and a child’s life is put at risk because there was nobody to look after them… maybe then it will feature on the homepage of a national newspaper again. But I’d imagine it would be couched in terms like these: “National shortage of foster carers because Muslims refuse to integrate and play part in civic life of nation”.
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Problematising the Muslim community is clearly the nation’s favourite pastime on a news-quiet Bank Holiday weekend, when newspaper sales are flagging. If this was about genuine concern about the welfare of the child, the article would have been broadened out to discuss the case of all children in foster placements whose cultural or religious background differs from that of their carers — but that was not the case. This was pure scaremongering for political gain.