I was recently asked to attend a foster carer awareness night for Nexus Fostering, my fostering agency, to be there alongside the recruitment team as a foster carer, should anyone have questions they felt only someone in that role could answer. This event was held on Eid’ul Adha, the second celebration of Eid (Festival of Sacrifice) to openly encourage more Muslim foster carers from the area. When I arrived, there were already a lot of people mingling, sharing food and greeting each other and by 8pm, there was over a hundred people in the hall.
Nexus Fostering had a stall right in the front door so everybody could see us, and we were greeted warmly by families, children and other stall holders as they walked past into the hall. Initially people smiled and walked past until our first enquiry; a GP and her husband, who stopped to ask for more information. The doctor was well known and respected in that area and it seemed to open the way to many more enquiries and queries from others in the room. The Nexus Fostering team were asked a variety of questions and they were often directed my way when people wanted to know day to day basics. I answered enquiries about teenagers and how to handle them, whether foster carers say no to a potential referral if they think it doesn’t suit their family (yes, Nexus understands that it has to be right fit for everyone in the household), how long does a foster child stay for (anytime between 1 day and many years, or sometimes until they are an adult) and do you need to own your own home (no, you can be a secure tenant but you do need a spare room).
However, an interesting question I was asked prompted this week’s blog; ‘what faith will the child be that comes to live with me?’ As a team, we explained to families enquiring that Nexus Fostering do everything they can to place a child in the best possible situation in order for them to thrive. This means, we always look for the perfect match and whilst that isn’t always possible, Nexus aim to make the best potential fit for that child.
Why is it important to have more diversity in fostering?
A couple asked me why we were looking for Muslim foster carers and I explained it wasn’t just Muslim carers needed, but also people from all sorts of ethnic, religious and sexually orientated backgrounds. When a child or young person comes into care, their needs are assessed and a potential foster carer is identified. The perfect foster carer for each individual child would be able to meet all their specific health, educational, family and emotional needs as well as having the same religious or ethnic background. In many cases this is met, but there are not enough foster carers in the UK generally and we need more foster carers of different faiths and ethnic diversity to meet the cultural and religious requirements of children coming into care.
Fosterline, a confidential and impartial service funded by the Department of Education quotes ‘Every child deserves the right to allow their own heritage and faith to be explored and developed whether in the care system or not. It is vitally important that children are placed with foster carers who can meet their needs and they are more likely to thrive if their religious and/or ethnic background is taken into consideration.’ In a nutshell, every child has a right to know their background and their own cultural history. In an ideal situation we would place a Muslim child with a Muslim family where their religious, dietary and cultural needs could be met, together with their emotional and physical requirements, however it is not always that easy. We ask potential foster carers to consider and discuss as a family how they would feel if they were asked to take a child with a faith different from their own or with no faith.
I recently spoke to a Jewish woman who came to the UK years ago as a refugee child and, whilst she said that every effort was made to meet her complex medical needs at the time and in fact her life was saved, her heritage and culture was not only ignored but swept under the carpet. The explanation given was that it would help her adapt and assimilate into the English way of life if she could forget her Jewish background, and she would not stand out so much. Nowadays most people would be appalled to hear such comments, as we see our personal history as part of our makeup and identity. This woman said she spent years being made to feel ashamed of her faith and then decades trying to piece it together and find Judaism later in life. Her final words to me as I left her house after interviewing her were ‘I had food, an education and I was safe from the war in my homeland, but I didn’t know who I was or where I came from. I felt I was in exile from my identity’.
You can read more information on fostering with a faith at http://www.fosterline.info/have-faith-to-foster/
With thanks to Mrs W for her interview and sharing her story with me.