A child at the centre of controversial media reports regarding the appropriateness of her placement with Muslim foster carers has been placed in the interim care of her grandmother.
The Times claimed earlier this week that the “white Christian” child had been at times “very distressed” in her placement by Tower Hamlets Council with “Arabic-speaking” foster carers, and that a carer removed her necklace with a crucifix on it.
However, the council disputed some of the paper’s claims, and said the child was “in fact fostered by an English speaking family of mixed race”.
A court order published yesterday revealed that the child’s mother had “raised some concerns about the appropriateness of the placement”, and on 27 June the court directed Tower Hamlets to “produce a statement to address the cultural appropriateness of the foster care placement”.
‘No welfare concerns’
However, the child’s guardian, having visited the child in the foster carer’s home and spoken to the child alone, had “no concerns as to the child’s welfare and she reports that the child is settled and well cared for by the foster carer”.
The case management order, published by Judge Khatun Sapnara in the East London Family Court, also revealed that the mother had “at no stage applied to the court for a change of foster carer”. The mother also said that she “did not disclose documents, confidential to these proceedings, to the press”.
Judge Sapnara said the new care arrangements were “a result of the application of the relevant law to the evidence now available to the court and not as a result of any influence arising out of media reports”.
Providing some background to the case, her order said that the child, identified as AB, was removed from the mother’s care and placed by Tower Hamlets with foster carers on an emergency basis in March 2017, but “there was no culturally matched foster placement available at the time”. There was then a “temporary change” of foster carer in the summer so the original foster carer could go on holiday.
Interim care order
The child has been the subject of an interim care order to Tower Hamlets since 10 March, and has had supervised contact with the mother three times per week. She has also spent time with the grandmother and had weekly telephone contact with both the mother and grandmother. However, the child’s biological father has not been located.
The mother applied for the child to be placed in the care of the maternal grandmother at a hearing on 27 June. However, the court refused that application, as at that time “the full assessment of the grandmother as a safe and appropriate carer was not yet available”.
On 27 June the court listed the case for further hearing on 29 August, and the foster care placement (a respite placement while the original foster carer went on holiday) was due to end on that day.
On 15 August Tower Hamlets proposed a change in its care plan to enable the child to be placed with the maternal grandmother on 29 August. The grandmother had been positively assessed as a suitable special guardian for the child.
Mother opposes long-term care plan
Tower Hamlets proposes that the child remains in the care of the grandmother in the long term, but the mother opposes this.
The order added: “The arrangements for where and with whom the child shall live and what contact she should have with other family members will be decided by the court at a later stage at a final hearing.”
Documents provided to the court state that the child’s maternal grandparents “are of a Muslim background but are non practising”, though the child’s mother says they are of “Christian heritage”.
The grandmother now wishes to return to her country of origin and care for the child there. Judge Sapnara said this would “require steps to be taken to obtain appropriate orders in the courts in the grandmother’s country of origin”.
Tower Hamlets will “provide assistance to the maternal grandmother to enable her to remain in this country beyond her currently permitted stay in order to provide ongoing care to AB, until the finalisation of these proceedings”.
Tower Hamlets must also respond to additional allegations made by the mother at court this week and file a statement on 8 September.
The next hearing scheduled in the case is the adjourned issues resolution hearing on 2 October.
‘Best placement available’
Debbie Jones, corporate director of children’s services at Tower Hamlets, said the council had been working towards the placement of the child with a family member “for some time”.
She added: “As a local authority, our number one priority with foster care is ensuring a child is placed in a safe and loving environment.
“Our foster carers are qualified people from different backgrounds, with vast experience of looking after children. They represent the diverse make up of our borough which is a place where people of all backgrounds get on with one another.
“Once the decision was taken to place the child into temporary care, we had to find the best placement available at the time.
“While cultural background is always a significant consideration in making this decision, so too are other factors including remaining in the local area to promote contact with the child’s family and for the child to continue at the same school in order to give them as much stability as possible.”
Jones added: “We are disappointed with the tone of some of the media coverage especially given the judge’s comments yesterday that reporting has been intrusive for both the child and the foster carer.
“While we cannot go into details of a case that would identify a child in foster care, there are also inaccuracies in the reporting of it.
“For example, the child was in fact fostered by an English speaking family of mixed race. We would like to give more details but we are legally restricted from doing so.”
The Independent Press Standards Organisation, which regulates newspapers, has received 10 complaints about The Times’ coverage of the case and six concerning articles published by the Daily Mail. It will assess if there has been a breach of its code and if it should launch an investigation.
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