Melanie McDonagh

The Tower Hamlets foster child story sums up a rotten borough

The Tower Hamlets foster child story sums up a rotten borough
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Which, do you reckon, is more repellent – the decision by Tower Hamlets, a borough rotten to the marrow, to place a Christian child with two successive Muslim foster parents of uncompromising Islamic views, or its reaction to the Timescoverage of the story yesterday, with a council spokesman saying that its fostering service “provides a loving, stable home for hundreds of children every year”? Both, I’d say, are par for the course.

There’s nothing wrong in itself for a child to be placed with foster parents of a different ethnicity or religion, provided that the care is respectful of her background and religion – indeed it’s a requirement for the local authority to take account of the child’s religious persuasion and ethnicity in making foster placements. But the most cursory interview with the niqab-wearing initial foster mother might have revealed problems on that score, viz, that she wouldn’t allow the five year old girl, who was baptised in church, to eat spaghetti carbonara (bacon, obv), took the cross she was wearing off her and for good measure didn’t speak English while at home. The child cried at the prospect of being returned to that family, saying “they don’t speak English” and after four months was packed off to another Muslim foster family. More recently, she told her mother that “Christmas and Easter are stupid” and that “European women are stupid and alcoholic”. The mother is horrified – wouldn’t we all be? It can’t help that her daughter’s present foster mother wears a burka.

This is not just a breach of the rules; it’s abuse of both the child and the parent who had to give up her daughter to social services – for “complex” reasons – and it’s tantamount, I’d say, to riding roughshod over the mother’s right to a private and family life. But forget the Human Rights Act: this is indicative that Christianity is not accorded even the most cursory respect in this overwhelmingly Muslim borough. Safeguarding the religion of a baptised Christian child doesn't matter, it would seem. Compare and contrast with the unfortunate Pentecostalist Christian foster carers, Eunice and Owen Jones from Derby, who were taken off the foster carers’ register six years ago, not because they weren’t warm and kindly, but because their views on homosexuality weren’t shared by the Derby social services department. Apropos of which, did Tower Hamlets' social services make enquiries about the burka-wearing foster-mother’s views on homosexuality? I fancy it may have been even less hospitable to gay pride than that of Pentecostal Christians.

The Times has done us a service; revealing both the grim and fundamentalist approach of Tower Hamlets' social services department – sensitive to every cultural need except those of Christians – and the reflexive approach of any local authority confronted by evidence of wanton mismanagement of vulnerable children: that is, to invoke the needs of the child and the requirement of confidentiality in these matters.

Like most people, I’m not privy to the details of why this unfortunate five year old was taken into care in the first place. I’m not suggesting that no Muslim foster family should ever care for a child of another religion – I would, for instance, trust members of the eirenic Ahmadiyya Muslim community to respect the sensibilities of other faiths. But these niqab and burka wearing fundamentalists plainly shouldn’t be allowed near the foster carers register. I can tell you this: if it were my child, I’d be prepared to be arrested for what I’d do to officials at Tower Hamlets. And if they’re that desperate for a foster family and have only women in burkas on their foster placement list, this is why, I think, responsibility for this sensitive task should be removed from them and given to a borough that isn’t under the governance of lunatics.

Written byMelanie McDonagh

Melanie McDonagh is a leaderwriter for the Evening Standard and Spectator contributor. Irish, living in London.

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