Local authority ‘lost sight’ of religious needs of children in care, judge says

A judge praised a social worker who he said grappled with the complexities of the case well

young boy reading religious text
Photo: APAImages/REXShuttershock

A local authority “lost sight” of the religious needs of seven siblings in care amid problems managing the case, a judge has ruled.

The judgment of SM and Ors, concerned six boys and one girl whose parents were devout Muslims. The children were placed in six separate care placements, two boys shared a foster placement, four were in individual fostering homes and one was in a residential unit.

Prior to being taken into care, at home the children were encouraged to pray and study the Quar’an. Their diet and other aspects of their lifestyle were determined by their faith, and the older children attended regular religious education classes.

In the proceedings, the parents contested that, while in care, the children’s religious and cultural needs were not being met.

In his judgment, Justice Baker found the local authority had “struggled to comply” with its duty under the Children Act to make sure a child does not grow up in a different “religious persuasion” in care than they would have at home.

He said: “Although clearly fundamental to the family’s life at home, it seems none of the children has attended Mosque whilst in foster care. Teaching and supported study of the Qur’an is non-existent.

“The carers’ notes reflect little understanding of the issues. Importantly to my mind, she observes that there is no designated member of the local authority team to support them to meet these needs”.

Baker told the local authority, which was not named in the judgment, to appoint a specialist worker to the case in order to address the issues identified.

In a supplementary document, the local authority said it would amend care plans to ensure the social worker supported the education of carers in the Muslim faith and hold meetings to discuss the encouragement of the Muslim faith, attendance at the mosque and studying the Qu’ran. The local authority would also pay for studying of the Qur’an for each child that wished to do so.

Complex

The judge acknowledged that the case, which spanned more than two years from the family becoming known to social services, was complex.

The children were originally placed in local authority care after child protection investigations into allegations of abuse by the father against the older children.

The local authority initially decided to rehabilitate the children with their parents and provide extensive support. However, it was discovered one of the girls had suffered sexual abuse by older siblings, which the parents had failed to prevent.

The two eldest siblings in the family had been charged with regards to sexual abuse against their sister.

The eldest had been convicted on all counts, including rape, and received a 4-year custodial sentence. He was not covered by this care proceedings case.

The other older sibling had been convicted of sexual assault, but acquitted of rape, and was subject to a youth rehabilitation order for 18 months. This included a requirement for a residential placement with the local authority for six months.

The other children were in foster placements. Several had experienced placement disruption, and the local authority was seeking placement orders for the two youngest.

Social worker praised

Baker said he did not underestimate the challenges the situation had posed to the local authority, but he felt religious needs had “at times been lost sight of amidst the overall problems thrown up by this case”.

The judge did however praise the social worker involved who “grappled with the intricacies of this complex case with, so far as I have been able to discern, only limited support”.

He said it was unsurprising that she appeared overwhelmed by the demands of this case.

“It is exceedingly unfortunate, to say the least, that the local authority was unable to allocate an additional social worker to take on some of the burden of this arduous case.”

Long-term fostering

The judge criticised the local authority for not considering long-term fostering as an option for the two youngest siblings. He said this showed the council had “struggled with the complexity of the issues arising in this case”.

Baker issued care orders for all seven children, with five remaining in their current placements, while the two youngest were to be found a long-term foster placement together.

If the children could not be returned to parents or placed in a culturally appropriate placement, which was the outcome for the children remaining in their current placement in this case, the local authority would be under a greater duty to ensure cultural and religious needs are met, Baker said.

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4 Responses to Local authority ‘lost sight’ of religious needs of children in care, judge says

  1. Robert Canning April 14, 2016 at 10:41 am #

    The authority did not neglect the children’s need for religion. It neglected the parents’ desire for indoctrination.

  2. susan Lewis April 14, 2016 at 1:19 pm #

    “religious needs are met, Baker said.”

    Children don’t have any religious needs. Their parents may have had religious wants for their children but that is altogether a different thing. Inform the children their parents were Muslim let them make up their own mind when they are adults. Give the poor kids a chance to escape indoctrination. The council should not be in the incidious position that they are forced to act as religious indoctrinators. The children are now safe. Enough.

  3. Martin Douglas April 15, 2016 at 10:47 am #

    I’m really not surprised at the judge’s comments if the islamophobic comments posted represent more general views in social work. Of course hildren have religious needs; if they don’t have a belief or religious practice they shouldn’t have one imposed. If they do it should be respected. It goes right back to the Children Act 1989. Let us be protected from the appalling partisan views expressed by the previous comments.

  4. Ann Edwards April 16, 2016 at 7:58 am #

    Steady on. While I do think that religious needs should be respected, as children subject to care orders (and two seem to be very young children, if adoption was being considered) and from the little we know about their experience of family life, they will have many other pressing needs at the moment. If only more families from the Muslim community would present as foster carers and adoptive carers it would be easier to find culturally appropriate placements or links to support non Muslim carers. Also, several placement changes could suggest difficult behaviour. It must have been hard to find placements to take sibling groups and to be near enough to facilitate contact. Also in cases of sexual abuse amongst siblings and where it has been condoned by parents, the risk of other children displaying sexual behaviour is high leading to more placement issues. It is a big ask to find links with mosques in some parts of the UK (a traditionally Christian country but where most Christians are not church attenders so there is limited cultural tradition amongst most foster carers of actual expression of faith) It seems the parents prioritised their faith above the protection of their children. I hope the social worker gets the support she needs in this difficult case and that the children are cared for in a way that allows them to feel loved, valued and respected as individuals.