Children and Families Bill

Memorandum submitted by The Muslim Council of Britain (CF 106)

1. Introduction

The Muslim Council of Britain (the MCB) is a national representative body of over 500 Muslim organisations from across the UK. The MCB seeks to work for the common good of the wider society by providing a voice to the Muslim Community in Britain and raising their concerns and aspirations to inform national policy.

2. The MCB recognises that adoption is posing as a major challenge and appreciates the pressures on finding suitable homes for those children awaiting adoption. However, the MCB does not believe that the proposed changes are the way forward and has serious reservations presented below.

3. The MCB re-affirms its commitment that in this very sensitive issue, what must be given utmost priority is the best interest of the child(ren) in question and proposes that efforts be multiplied to encourage more people to come forward to foster and adopt from all faith and ethnic communities.

4. The MCB re-affirms from the outset its commitment to work with the Government and other agencies to raise profile of this very pertinent issue within the wider British Muslim Community to encourage more from this community to come forward to volunteer for fostering and adoption.

5. Notwithstanding the above, the MCB, representing the widely held views of the Muslim community, considers any attempt to remove the ethnicity clauses from adoption legislation is unacceptable to all faith and ethnic communities. In particular, we believe the bill’s proposal jeopardises the fundamental right of Muslim children to their religious identity and therefore the MCB considers such a change will be detrimental to the right of the child and the family.

6. The MCB therefore disagrees with the Government as it considers the proposal for changes is bound to have long term consequence on the fabric of the society itself therefore cannot be accepted.

7. With regard to the adoption provisions, the MCB is concerned that any significant growth in 'Fostering for Adoption' , in the manner as envisaged by the proposed changes, risks undermining the child's right to have a relationship with their birth parents where possible , and could be perceived as pre-empting the court process.

8. In respect of the changes to the consideration of ethnic background when placing children with adoptive parents, the MCB foresees a risk that the change will lead to some children being placed with families who do not and cannot meet their linguistic, cultural and identity needs, as the focus of practice and of efforts to recruit adopters from a wide range of backgrounds will be reduced.

9. Adult adoptees who were born to Muslim parents, and then adopted by non-Muslims, testify that though they were well loved and cared for, they felt that not being adopted into Muslim families had adverse effects on their identity, self-esteem and ability to connect with their birth families and community of origin as adults. They felt it is particularly important to place Muslim children with Muslim adopters because otherwise they face growing up in an environment where the media often portrays Muslims negatively, without having a Muslim role model as part of their day-to-day lived experience with whom they could form positive associations about their birth background. In their experience this had led to a form of racism towards oneself and self-loathing, borne out of being different to their adoptive family members.

10. We strongly believe that the religion of all children, and in particular the Muslim children in the care system must be preserved. To remove the need to consider a child’s ethnicity and religion denies a human being the most fundamental right to identify with a particular group of people and to seek to promote and be informed about those aspects of their culture and heritage that will promote their social, emotional and intellectual development and will enhance their welfare.

11. The MCB is extremely concerned that the child’s ethnic, cultural and religious background will not merit specific consideration. It does matter, it must be a priority and be given due consideration. The result must not be less attention given to the child’s ethnic, cultural and religious background when making a placement.

12. The MCB is very concerned that in addition to the removal of race are the implications of the removal of religion and faith (within the definition of ethnicity) in adoption.  We identify a risk in that the Adopter’s religion and faith will be imposed on the child, and their right to their birth family’s religion or faith will be negated.  And the birth family’s expression of religion or faith will be ignored completely because the rights of the Adopters will supersede the rights of the child. This is not in line with the UNCRC Article 20: when considering solutions where a child is temporarily or permanently out of its family environment ‘due regard shall be paid to the desirability of continuity in a child’s upbringing and to the child’s ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic background’.

13. The MCB agrees with the Office for Children’s Commissioner that adoptive placements must be placed near the same geographical area of birth families and communities so that they can retain contact with relatives and friends.

14. The MCB vehemently disagrees with The Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, who has proposed the amendment of section 1 (5) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 within a draft ‘Children and Families Bill’ which is being scrutinized by the Bill Committee until 23 rd  April 2013. Mr. Gove, who although adopted, was not trans-racially or trans-religiously raised, calls for the removal of ‘due consideration’ of religion, race, culture and linguistic background, when placing a child for adoption.

15. Fears it will compound the bad practice by boroughs of avoiding using inter-agency adopters

Dr Julie Selwyn’s research (‘Adoption & the Inter-Agency Fee) highlighted some bad practice which was acknowledged by the former Children’s Minister, Tim Loughton. It showed that some local authorities are guilty of not referring children to the adoption register or of ignoring matches that this generates, in an attempt to avoid paying the extra costs for inter-agency adopters. While this caused delays, Dr Julie Selwyn acknowledged that this has another consequence – if local authorities family finding for a Muslim child do not happen to have Muslim families approved in house, some may place children with in house, non-Muslim families, rather than look to inter agency adopters who are Muslim. This matches with findings of practice anecdotally that for years from social workers under pressure from managers to protect their budget – social workers have referred to it as ‘buying a form F’. Our concern is that despite the added funds given to local authorities by the current government, the repeal of the ethnicity clause will compound this bad practice. Our view is, this is because LAs will feel under no obligation to even attempt to use inter-agency adopters to search for a faith match, since the proposed repeal of ethnicity clause sends out a message to social workers that they need not bother! What with speediness as a performance indicator, and religion etc no longer requiring due consideration, local authorities can just skip the need to look elsewhere for more appropriate adopters and simply go with a cheaper and quicker option in house.

16. MCB recommends the following solution: Abolishment of the inter-agency fee in favour of a ‘central money pot’ is the only way local authorities will prioritize the needs of children over and above their local interests. The needs of the child – in terms of finding the best match – would be best met if children are ‘opened up’ to approved adopters up and down the country, in such a way that the cost to LAs of using inter-agency adopters is the same as using in house adopters. This would be of benefit not only to Muslim children, but for harder to place children in general. This would serve in the interests of all parties concerned: allowing approved adopters from all over the country ‘access’ to consider children will increase the chances of harder to place children being enquired about and ultimately this will speed up adoptions, while – I might add – increasing the chances of finding the most appropriate adopters in terms of religion. This way, unlike with the bill’s proposals, speed and quality of match go hand in hand, rather than one at the expense of the other.

17.  If this Bill is passed, we will see Muslim children being raised by Jewish families, Jewish children raised by families of other religions, Asian Hindu children placed with black Christian families and Black children placed with National Front families (families with fascist ideology) in adoption, as was  recently reported in the papers.  This is completely unacceptable and much consideration and thoughts must be given before the proposed changes are adopted.

April 2013

Prepared 26th April 2013