The first-page title of today’s The Times newspaper read: “Christian child forced into Muslim foster care”. The news report by Andrew Norfolk, the Chief Investigative Reporter for The Times, was about the six-month ordeal of a five-year-old girl. The local authority took her from her family and allegedly forced her to live with Muslim foster carers in London – not once, but twice. One of the families allegedly removed her necklace with a cross, prohibited her from having her favourite Italian carbonara meal because it had bacon and encouraged her to learn Arabic. The child also showed distress in returning to the foster family because “they don’t speak English”.
This is in spite of having an act specifically addressing this – The Children Act 1989 Section 22 says:
In making any decision with respect to a child whom the local authority is looking after … a local authority shall give due consideration … to the child’s religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background.
I have nothing against Islam or the Muslim community. In fact, I see the foster family reacting as per their religious convictions. And it is not so much the religious difference that worries me than the language difference. So I wonder why the council hadn’t considered the child’s linguistic and cultural background for foster care placements. The local authorities of Tower Hamlets have not provided any explanations as part of the news report.
I studied in a residential boarding school when I was about 5 or 6 (1st Grade). It was weird to live in “foreign place” where not many people spoke my language. And I wondered why we had to do everything at the ring of a bell.
This “foreign place” (Ooty, Tamilnadu ) was, by the way, hardly 500km away from my hometown in Kerala. And this neighbouring state had a different, but similar, language to my mother tongue (Malayalam). The staffs at the school encouraged me to read the Bible. I attended the church every Sunday. There weren’t any religious biases at school because we celebrated Holi and Easter. The school staffs there genuinely cared about me. I also had many friendly senior chechis (sisters) and chettans (brothers). Yet the initial period of getting used to the place and the language is something that I vaguely remember. The memory of it still gives me butterflies in my tummy. I went back last year to visit the school with Mr Logan. The faint recognition on the face of the Headmistress when she saw me made my day.
Reading this news today reminded me of my childhood experience. And truth be told, my experience was far less of an ordeal that this little girl’s experience. My heart goes out to this traumatised little girl. It is easier for a toddler to adapt to these changes. But at age 5, communication is key for a child. She may have already acquired some likes and dislikes. She needs to feel secure and loved rather than feel trapped amidst the unfamiliar. Even if religion may not be a major facet of her identity yet, some of the religious practices will be – for example, her food habits or holidays. In fact, the news report says:
More recently, the girl is said to have told her mother that “Christmas and Easter are stupid” and that “European women are stupid and alcoholic”.
I thought it was more common for White British parents to foster a non-White child in England. It is strange to see the reverse happening. This shows a shortage of White British foster carers in spite of the 2011 Nation Census stating that 80% of England’s population was White British. I am grateful to Andrew Norfolk, the Times reporter for bringing this incident to light. This news requires national focus just like the Rotherham Child Sex Scandal he wrote about in 2014. I hope that the authorities will consider cultural compatibility when they place children in foster care.
[Feature Image Courtesy: Unsplash]