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Carbonara conundrums – what we do or don’t know about the “Muslim foster carer” case

 

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, or you’ve taken a year off from the news in the hope that when you come back everything will be okay (good luck with that), you’ll have heard about the child in foster care said to have been mistreated by Muslim foster carers.

The Times (paywall paywall paywall) and Mail have reported on it extensively this week, and most other papers have followed them.

This is the gist of the story – a white English child whose mother is a Christian, has been placed against mother’s wishes with Muslim carers. The child told the mother that they had not spoken English (the press reports were that the carers couldn’t speak English, we know now that this is not correct), that they had told her she couldn’t or shouldn’t celebrate Easter or Christmas, was forbidden from having her favourite meal spaghetti carbonara because it contains ham, had her crucifix taken/ripped off her, and was told that all English women are alcoholics. The child was reported to be distraught by this.

 

The Press reported that, and had the additional angle that it was wrong for white Christian children to be placed with Muslim carers.  The Times published a genuine (but pixelated) photograph of the female foster carer and the child, the Mail used a stock photograph and badly photoshopped in a veil for some reason on the adult female.

 

Han Solo was all, like “they’re going to put me in the Carbonara chamber? Bring it”

 

 

Imagine that I am more tech savvy and that this niqab is over the plate of carbonara. That would be much better.

 

Let’s very quickly deal with the first issue – the systemic one.  Should ethnic and cultural matches be the priority when placing children – well, sort of. Local Authorities do have duties to take into account the child’s cultural and religious heritage and make sure that those needs are met in foster care.  At the same time, the Government brought about law  (cough, at the behest of the same Press outlets who are screeching about this) to stop those factors being considered in adoptive placements  (that came about because the Press were appalled that white carers were being told they couldn’t adopt non-white children, of whom there was a surfeit – the system had more white carers than white children who needed carers, and more BAME children who needed carers than BAME carers. That’s true of foster carers too).

So whilst a Local Authority will try to match children to foster carers, it isn’t always possible to have an exact match – the amount of carers of particular types doesn’t equate to the amount of children who need such carers.  In general, it is more common to find BAME children placed with white carers than the reverse – which is what happened here, but it depends where you are in the country.  When I worked in the West Midlands, we did sometimes have to place white children with BAME carers, so it depends on local demographics as well as national ones.

 

So there is a systemic problem, but it is interesting that the Press have complained about it in two different directions, that white carers should be allowed to have BAME children and that white children shouldn’t be with BAME carers.  I think the Press might want to have a bit of a think about that.

 

Anyway, I’m more interested in the INDIVIDUAL issues.

Easiest question first.

 

  1. If the foster carer did this, is that okay?

 

Absolutely not. Local Authorities and foster carers have a duty to look after children in their care and treat them well. They have a duty to respect a child’s cultural and religious heritage and what is complained of here IF TRUE is appalling.  IF TRUE, that person would be unsuitable to foster and would probably be deregistered as a foster carer.

 

2. Are all foster carers perfect?

 

No. Foster carers are human beings, and all human beings have flaws and are capable of showing those flaws. Some foster carers have abused children in their care – some much more seriously than these allegations and have gone to prison for it. The Press don’t seem to give those convictions front page stories very often (though cases where foster carers murder children in their care do make the front page).  It’s a bit like a plane crash – plane crashes happen, and when they happen it is awful and dreadful and important that people try to learn from how it happened and stop it happening in the future, but you can’t assess whether plane travel is generally safe or generally dangerous by only thinking about the ones that crash. You have to have the context of there being a lot of planes flying every day with no problems.  (That doesn’t mean that abuse in foster homes is okay, any more than a plane crash is okay. Just that context is important)

3. So is this a story?

 

IF TRUE, yes, it is a story.  If it isn’t true and mother’s allegations are false, it’s not really a story at all.  Person lies in Court is not a news story. People do it all the time. That’s why we need Judges. If everyone who went to Court just told the truth always, we wouldn’t need a Judge and thousands of pieces of paper to work things out.

 

4. So is it TRUE ?

 

We don’t know.  There’s some stuff that we DO know.

 

The Court have published the order

https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/judgments/the-child-ab-case-management-order-no-7-anonymised/

 

From that, we do know some stuff. I’d suggest you read it at the end rather than now, because whilst it might make readers lean one way or the other on whether the story is true or not, the ultimate fact is that we don’t know.  We know that mother alleges this stuff, and that the Local Authority say it isn’t true.  The Court is gathering the evidence, but nobody has yet got into the witness box and answered questions and the Judge hasn’t decided anything.

If this child has given that account, it MUST have been in a supervised contact setting. So perhaps there is evidence that supports the mother’s allegations – of contact recordings showing that the child said that. Perhaps the contact recordings don’t show any such conversations. We don’t know.  The Times certainly didn’t apply to Court for permission to publish an anonymised version of the contact recordings that would support their story – that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t exist, maybe the reporter didn’t know that they could ask. Maybe if they had asked, the Court would have said no. We don’t know.

Anyone who says now that they are SURE the foster carer has done this, is coming to that conclusion when we don’t know any of the facts or evidence. Equally, anyone who says this mother must be lying (because she is this, that and the other) is also jumping to a conclusion when we don’t know any of the facts or evidence.  Imagine for a moment this Press report being that a mother claimed the foster carer racially abused her, or that a psychologist made up quotes from her – we might speculate that the mother is bound to be making this up (but in two cases where those things were claimed, the mother was right and tape recording evidence proved it).   So don’t assume that either of them MUST be telling the truth. We don’t know.

5. Will we EVER know?

 

Tricky. The way that we will know whether the evidence, as tested in Court, by witnesses being asked evidence and the documents being considered, is when a judgment is published. That judgment would clearly be in the public interest and I’m sure it will be published. I would then write about it.  The Press may, if the Judge decides that the mother’s account was right. They may, if the Judge decides they were all fooled by a single source, publish that with an apology. They may publish a Christoper Booker-esque piece about how the secret family Courts have got this wrong and that they know best. We don’t know.

 

6. But will there be a judgment?

 

This is really my reason for contributing on this.  The family Courts are paid for by taxpayers. They are spending taxpayers money. They have a job to do in relation to each set of care proceedings they hear. The Court of Appeal has made it clear that they have to answer two questions.

 

(a) Has this child been significantly harmed or is the child at risk of significant harm with that harm being a result of the parents behaviour being unreasonable (and if not, that’s the end of it)

and

(b) What orders, if any, should the Court make?

 

(Many people wrongly conflate b with – decide where the child should live. Although there’s often quite a bit of overlap, the Court is not deciding where the child should live, but what order if any to make)

 

Now, from reading the order, this mother is undertaking drug tests and alcohol tests, and is also facing criminal charges for something (some of the Press reports specify it, but it isn’t in the order) and the criminal proceedings papers are being produced.  I think those things are probably relevant to (a) – it may be proved, or it may not. But whether or not  the foster carer did or didn’t do these things doesn’t come into it.

The foster carer isn’t being considered as a permanent carer for the child, so there’s no need to assess her for (b). It is a straight shoot-out between Special Guardianship Order to grandmother (with possibly a string of other orders about placing the child in a foreign country, as that’s her intention) or no order/Supervision Order with the child being with mother.  That’s going to hinge on whether the Court considers that mother can provide good enough care for the child. These allegations don’t come into it.

But, surely if the Court decides that mother was wronged about the foster placement, they’d have to put that right by returning the child to her care? No, the Court’s paramount consideration is the child, not mother.   But surely, if the Court decides mum lied about these allegations, they couldn’t return the child to her care? No, because the Court’s paramount consideration is the child, not whether mother lied.  But surely if mother lied about this, the Court could take that into account as to whether she’s lying about other stuff?  Well, not really. The Court have to follow a principle from a case called Lucas  – the Court must remind itself that just because a person told lies about A that doesn’t mean that they are lying about B, C or D too – people can tell lies for a number of reasons and lying about one thing, even if you are caught out doesn’t mean you are lying about everything.

 

SO – I think there is a considerable prospect of the Court not actually litigating this argument at all.  If the assessments of mother are that she can provide good enough care, there won’t be a contested final hearing at all. If there is a final hearing about SGO with grandmother versus no order/ Supervision Order with mum, then this aspect doesn’t help the Court make that decision in any way.

 

It is possible that the Court will deal with it and make findings one way or the other, as a result of the public interest – but it is worth remembering that the Court isn’t a public inquiry – it isn’t there to give me, or you or the Daily Mail answers – it is there to decide what orders to make for the child.  If the Court hears evidence about these allegations, they would need to hear from the foster carer (s), the contact supervisor(s) and mother – that probably amounts to adding an extra day to the hearing to satisfy my curiousity. And if the Judge spends an extra day doing this case than another case, another child, has to wait for their decisions.

 

It’s a bit of a downbeat answer – we may never know from the family Court what really happened.

 

 

BUT BUT BUT

 

What about other Court hearings?

Well, it is theoretically possible that mother might make a claim under the Human Rights Act for damages for these allegations, and then the Court would have to hear evidence and make the decision.  Or for damages as a result of the Local Authority failing to comply with their statutory duty to promote and respect the child’s cultural and religious heritage. That sounds a bit thin.  Firstly, the claim even if everything is proved is a bit thin for a HRA claim and secondly mother would have to get that litigation funded somehow – which means persuading either the Legal Aid Agency that this is an exceptional case which justifies it or persuading a lawyer to do it for free.

And there isn’t an automatic guidance that all judgments like that are published (I think it would be in this case due to the public interest).

 

What else?

Well, an investigative route would be Fostering Panel. Foster carers do have their registration reviewed, and Fostering Panel can consider revoking registration. They aren’t massively set up for hearing evidence on contentious issues and making determinations as to disputed facts – I also don’t think they’d do a long ‘judgment’  – it would be more likely to be a short decision. And they don’t have to publish that. And even a cunningly-worded FOI request to Tower Hamlets would probably be knocked out on the basis that the foster carer has rights under the Data Protection Act about their sensitive and personal data.

 

A Serious Case Review? Don’t think it meets the criteria – the child hasn’t been seriously injured.

 

So either this Judge will go out on a limb to deal with the allegations as part of a contested final hearing and publish a judgment, or we will never know. At this point, I’d say it is 70-30 on us never knowing.

 

ANYONE CURRENTLY saying  “This is definitely what happened in this case” does not know what they are talking about.  It is a guess. It might turn out to be a good guess, but it is a guess.

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About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

37 responses

  1. if nothing else it’s opened up the debate about the sort of people we place our children with.

    It seems to me that SWs do not care about the sort of people children are placed with. Den of iniquity going on here. FCs must speaka -da -English at the very least and must respect children’s preferences re: religion and language at al.

    I have seen too many Latvians and Poles etc not speaking their own languages and not practising their religions because FC are sadly lacking in empathy, skill and education.

    • Worth noting that grandmother, with whom the child is now placed, and which the Times was delighted with, has had to have the Court papers translated from English into the language that she speaks… All foster carers do have to speak English. The early press reports that they could not speak English have been shown to be wrong. They MAY have spoken their first language inside their own home, which doesn’t seem that unreasonable to me.

  2. The big Question here is “Why didn’t they send the child to the grandmother in the first place.?”
    The Children Act is pretty clear that children who cannot live with parents MUST be placed with relatives or close friends of parents.

  3. Your drawing infringes on Michael Bentine’s Potty Time copyright.

  4. The issue that is most alarming to me is the fact that the grandmother may not be able to remain in this country beyond her currently permitted stay. However, the judge seems to have no concerns about the possibility that the child may be taken out of the country. In my opinion, the child’s cultural roots in this country should be fully recognised and it would be wrong to allow the child to be taken out of the jurisdiction of the UK.

    • Dear Hilary

      I suspect that will be an issue for the final hearing, though the wave of case law in the last few years means that cultural ties to England and the disruption of moving countries when you are five count for relatively little against the juggernaut of Re B-S if the alternative care plan is adoption. We are told very often that to even raise the argument is social engineering, and in effect unless the country planned to move to is currently judged as unsafe to travel to by the Home Office, the issue barely comes up any longer. I think in this case the grandmother actually wishes to go home, rather than wants to stay here and is unable to – although we have very limited information.

  5. “We cannot comment on individual cases” say the local authorities effectively gagging themselves ! Well I say they should be obliged to defend their actions if questioned.
    Jail for mothers who protest publicly when their babies are legally snatched at birth !
    That on the basis that a new born baby would suffer if it knew that its privacy was being breached ! How absurd can you get?
    Why did they not place the child with granny in the first place as the law on kinship requires?
    Well that is because the courts and the social workers disregard the law and break it whenever it suits them !
    Hallelujah !

    • Well, I for one wish that the President in Re J had given LAs the power to respond to journalists trying to see if a story stands up, but he didn’t, so we are for the moment stuck with statute that prevents us.

  6. What statute gags local authorities preventing themfrom defending theiractions in such a way as to not identify parents or children? Can’t be too difficult !

    • The Data Protection Act. And theres no provision in the FPR for disclosures about care proceedings to journalists. So an LA doing it will be in contempt of court. That was easy.

      • I still do not see why the local authority cannot discuss matters already in the public domain.
        No Data would need to be protected in that case.
        It is a scandal that parents are gagged and now you say local authorities are also gagged !
        What on earth has happened to free speech in the UK?

      • Parents have quite a lot more freedom after re j as long as nothing identifies the child. But all of it could be made much simpler and clearer

  7. ashamedtobebritish

    I’m standing with those asking why the child was placed in FC in the first place, regardless as to what happened to bring proceedings, there was an alternative family member, as we now know.
    Too many children are being placed needlessly.

    I don’t agree with children being placed with anyone (including family members) who deny them of their rights to practice their religion, culture, beliefs … I saw it happen about 4 years back. The child was so confused he wanted to convert to Muslim just because the FC told him it was the right way to live.
    What next? Are we in danger of putting children in care to be radicalised – As happens in the prisons of adults?

    Careful ppl of the Uk … careful

  8. Well I say well done our press. More stories to come.

  9. i can’t see how the Data protection act stops a local authority from defending its action,s providing it anonymises its defence and makes reference only to those facts already put in the public domain by journalists or parents.

    • Information about a child being the subject of care proceedings and information about the case would be sensitive personal data, meaning that schedules 2 and 3 apply. None of the exemptions in those schedules would cover answering journalists questions, and in any event, information about care proceedings is covered by FPR and there’s not provision in that for the LA to answer those questions unless the Court have given permission.

      That’s why I would like the President to decide in a reported case, or to issue a Practice Direction that would allow a journalist to contact the LA and invite them for an anonymised comment which wouldn’t identify the family and for the LA to be able to do that if they wished. Then a no comment response would be a genuine no comment, rather than currently which is that the LA can’t comment without being in contempt of Court and at risk of a massive data protection fine. There also needs to be a much better and faster way for a journalist to get Court permission to see the papers so they have a better understanding of the case)

  10. Reblogged this on | truthaholics and commented:
    Though the facts, in this case, aren’t yet clear, it’s hard to see how any one-size-fits-all child protection measure – especially culturally mismatched/unmatched foster placements – can be justified as proportional and necessary state intervention in family life.

    • I’d agree that it is vital that decisions in individual cases are weighed against that important concept and be bespoke individual decisions not one size fits all. The parents lawyers, child’s lawyer and the Court all have vital roles to play in ensuring that Local Authorities are properly challenged on whether their proposed solution is genuinely proportionate and necessary.

  11. We have had a number of cases where ethnicity, culture and language were issues with foster carers, and the need for improved cultural training and awareness for social workers is a point we have made in giving evidence to House of Commons committees. Bias exists eg devout Christian birth parents criticised for having a crucifix on the wall, a West Indian mother with a degree was disbelieved to the extent that two social workers were sent to her university tutor with a photo of her before she was believed, another West Indian mother was asked where she worked and replied the local hospital “Oh, so you’re a cleaner” commented the SW to this woman with a nursing degree.
    Simplistic “ethnic” placements may tick the right boxes but still be wrong.
    A mother who taught her daughter that her Afro hair was beautiful, was horrified when a foster carer had it chemically straightened to fit white ideas of beauty. Young Pakistani children of a birth mother born and highly educated in the UK, were placed with Pakistani foster carers who did not speak English at home.
    Most worrying of all, children learn that reasonable criticism of foster carers which is relayed by birth parents may result in reduced contact, so learn to keep silent.
    We think every child in care should be given contact details for the Children’s Commissioner
    Jean Robinson
    President
    Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services
    Reg Charity

  12. My bottom line is this FCs and prospective adopters must be the best cultural and racial match possible.

    We are storing up trouble for the future with forcing people to be disenfranchised from their natural inheritance. If great matches cannot be found, then lets use some common sense here and get the best fit we can.

    We steal a child’s language, their religion, their culture all in the name of keeping them safe, but this is not keeping them safe, it is messing with their heads and making them in to something they are not. That is not my definition of safe.

    Gypsy kids are taken from their rich cultural heritage and thrown with absolutely anyone because any old thing goes because we don’t care. It’s ethnic cleansing.

    Black kids with white families, Latvians with English only speakers. We can’t even get the English bit right can we? We have to have FCs who speak very little English so we are seen to be “inclusive”and we don’t get accused of racism hahaha. How can a five year old understand broken English? Why is she expected to meet their norm and not the other way round? I’ve no issue with her learning Arabic, I’ve an issue with that being forced upon her.

    We are born in to this world fully loaded with our talents, skills, emotional make-up, personalities lets not mess with it.

    We are identity thieves and it stinks.

    • ashamedtobebritish

      Yes!!! This exactly!!

      • A,B,C,D,E,Why not use Birth Certified Name Initials,
        Throughout Full Family Court Case, Redcar & Cleveland Local
        Authority Stole my stole my Grandsons Birth Certified Identity, by Illegally,
        using his Christian Name, followed by his fathers surname followed by his
        mothers surname, all Court Orders within the Case were
        refused, Not worth the paper they were written on? Covered up all
        the evidence held within his medical file, birth details Breech, cord
        wrapped around his neck, head not growing, Most importantly
        Diagnosis Cerebral Atrophy
        Give Children & Birth Family a Chance ???????????????? TO JUSTICE

    • Identity A,B,C,D,E Why not use Birth Certified Name Initials,
      Throughout Full Family Court Case, Redcar & Cleveland Local Authority Stole my Grandson Birth Certified Identity, by illegally using his Christian name followed by his fathers surname followed by his mothers surname, all Court Orders within the case were refused, Not worth the paper they were written on? Covered-up all the evidence within his medical file, birth details breech, cord wrapped around his neck, head not growing, most importantly diagnosis Cerebral Atrophy
      Give children & Birth Family a chance???????????? To JUSTICE

  13. It should then be up to the parents to decide if the LA can respond to their criticisms.If the parents refuse the LA could quite rightly say “no comment because parents refuse us permission to answer questions about their case.”

  14. From the order:

    “13. The mother has at no stage applied to the court for a change of foster carer”

    I can’t see how this is something she could have done in any event. What Order would that have been? I have certainly never heard of an application being made to a Court to make a Local Authority exercise it’s PR in this particular way or another (excluding contact).

    Andrew, any idea?

    • ashamedtobebritish

      Variation of the care order/specific issues I suspect

    • I guess it would be inviting the LA to change the placement and if not to contest the ICO. But there isn’t a specific application or order the court could make (though an interim placement with grandmother would have been the logical alternative)

  15. Of course what we DARE NOT discuss is why the child was taken from its mother in the first place ! That is so secret that the poor mother will be jailed if she goes public with the details and so would suespicious minds if he exposed them..I Wonder what happened to “justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done”?

    • You’re clearly not reading either the order or the newspapers. It’s out there

      • Nothing specific that the mother has done wrong ;no account of the accusations made against her or her defence to them ! Nothing of what she said in court herself (if she was allowed to speak ) Just the usual mantras……..This child has been deprived of the care a loving mother for no good published reasons at all and anyone who gives the game away by revealing publicly hitherto unpublished details of what went on in court will go to jail ;Yes you too Andrew !

  16. You say
    “Now, from reading the order, this mother is undertaking drug tests and alcohol tests, and is also facing criminal charges for something (some of the Press reports specify it, but it isn’t in the order) and the criminal proceedings papers are being produced.  I think those things are probably relevant to (a) – it may be proved, or it may not. But whether or not  the foster carer did or didn’t do these things doesn’t come into it”

    Undergoing tests and “facing criminal charges for something” just shows that we cannot be told what really happened in court;what was said by her;what was said by her accusers ,;
    If you know the details “suespicious” publish them here and I PROMISE you I will visit you in jail !

  17. Pingback: Fostering fall-out | This Week in Fostering

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