A Christian girl forced to live with a Muslim foster carer (pictured) was last night returned to her family after a court ruling
A Christian girl forced to live with a Muslim foster carer was last night returned to her family after a court ruling.
It follows a national outcry over Tower Hamlets council’s decision to place the five-year-old in two Muslim households – against the wishes of her family.
The girl was taken to her grandmother’s house yesterday after a judge urged councils to seek ‘culturally matched placements’ for vulnerable children.
Judge Khatun Sapnara, a Muslim, told the council it was in the girl’s best interests to live with a family member who could keep her safe, promote her welfare and meet her needs ‘in terms of ethnicity, culture and religion’, The Times reported.
The judge even went as far as to order the East London council to conduct an urgent investigation.
Friends of the girl’s family told the newspaper they were hugely relieved by the decision to remove her from placements where everything was ‘foreign and unfamiliar’ into surroundings where she would feel ‘much more at home’.
During yesterday’s hearing at East London Family Court, security staff tried to remove a journalist, but Judge Sapnara ruled that the reporter be allowed to stay.
The girl’s parents were said to have pleaded with the scandal-hit council to allow the child to live with friends or relatives, but officials had opposed their plans to place her into the temporary care of her grandmother.
Instead, social workers noted the British-born child’s distress as she begged not to be returned to a Muslim foster home where she said she could not understand her carers because they did not speak English.
Friends of the child’s family said she spoke English as her first language, had a UK passport and had been christened. But during an access visit she was said to have told her mother that ‘Christmas and Easter are stupid’ and ‘European women are stupid and alcoholic’, prompting questions over cultural attitudes expressed in at least one of her foster homes.
In April this year, an Ofsted inspection at Tower Hamlets council found ‘widespread and serious failures in the services provided to children who need help and protection’
The Children’s Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield, said she had raised concerns with Tower Hamlets and would continue to monitor the case.
The council was criticised earlier by Ofsted inspectors who said its children’s services were ‘inadequate’.
Confidential reports seen by The Times described the five-year-old sobbing and begging not to go back to one foster mother who wore a headscarf and face veil in public.
The girl claimed the foster carer had taken away her necklace, which had a Christian cross on it, suggested she should learn Arabic and had refused to allow her to eat food prepared by her birth mother because it contained bacon.
Former justice minister Shailesh Vara, Tory MP for North West Cambridgeshire, said the council’s decision was ‘completely wrong’
She was left in that placement for four months before being handed to her current foster mother, who reportedly wears a burka in public to cover her face. Sources at Tower Hamlets said the placement was temporary.
Miss Longfield said: ‘I have spoken to Tower Hamlets council and raised a number of concerns, and have asked about the wishes of the little girl. I have asked the council to ensure that this child has the support of an independent advocate so that her views are heard at the heart of this process.’
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said child safety was a priority and the Department for Education was conducting a ‘stocktake’ of national fostering. She said: ‘Councils have to bear in mind the ethnicity and religion of children when they are placing them in care, but they approach that on a case-by-case basis, which is right.’
Simon Calvert, of the Christian Institute, said councils normally tried to ensure children were placed with carers who would respect their beliefs.
‘Clearly something has gone wrong in this case,’ he said.
‘We can’t have a situation where a local authority respects all religious backgrounds except Christianity.
‘In my experience, Christian foster carers do all they can to respect the religious and cultural heritage of children placed in their care.’
Peter Golds, leader of the Tory group on the council said: ‘This case raises some troubling questions about the suitability of at least one of our foster parents and the judgment of Tower Hamlets’ children’s services.’
Tower Hamlets refused to say why it took the child into care. It was concerned that reports risked identifying her and criticised ‘inaccuracies’ in some coverage. Before yesterday’s court ruling, it said: ‘The child is fostered by an English-speaking family of mixed race in this temporary placement.
‘We would like to give more details but we are legally restricted.
‘We have always been working towards the child being looked after by a family member and we continue to do so.’
The adviser who said ignoring a child’s culture is ‘terrible crime’
By Josh White and George Odling
Liz Sibthorpe issued the warning when recounting her own difficulties as a girl of mixed-race heritage who was placed with a white adoptive mother
A fostering adviser at Tower Hamlets Council once claimed it was ‘a terrible crime’ to ignore the culture and background of a child in care, it can be revealed.
Liz Sibthorpe, who sits as an independent member on the council’s fostering panel, issued the warning when recounting her own difficulties as a girl of mixed-race heritage who was placed with a white adoptive mother.
The fostering panel’s main function is to decide on the suitability of applicants to foster children, and review the performance of recently-approved carers.
Miss Sibthorpe has considerable expertise in fostering and adoption, informed in part by her own background. Her council biography says she ‘was adopted in a transracial placement as a baby’.
The 68-year-old author has spoken openly about the strains she felt after being placed with a white adoptive mother from the age of 12 months. ‘From a very young age I knew I wasn’t fully English. The difficulty for me was that [my adoptive mother] wanted me to be white’, she said in an interview with the York Press 2006. ‘She would say, “Don’t go for an interview in the summer because you look coloured”. It made me feel that being of mixed race was bad. But I wasn’t ashamed of my colour and wanted to know who I was.
‘In my experience, our background and cultures were denied to us. It’s a terrible crime to do to a child.’
The same year, she wrote how she ‘grew up feeling embarrassed… but I didn’t know where else I belonged’.
The fact that one of its panel members has made such clear comments on the issue will add to questions over the state of children’s services in Tower Hamlets.
Last night, Miss Sibthorpe told the Daily Mail: ‘I do believe the department does its very best to care for children and that is all I can say. I have no idea when this happened or how it was dealt with. I was adopted 60-odd years ago and things are very different now.’
The job of fostering panels is to ‘oversee the conduct of assessments’ and ‘give advice and make recommendations’. They do not, however, decide on where to place a child.