Press smear is destroying the lives of foster children

Most have become familiar with The Times’ scandalous headlines about an innocent, white Christian girl ‘forced’ into an Arabic-speaking foster home. The carers were practising Muslims, wore niqabs and allegedly took away a crucifix necklace belonging to the five-year-old. The Times reported that the child was seen “sobbing and begging not to be returned to the foster carer’s home.” An outrageous state of affairs, it seems. Thankfully (and predictably), it is entirely fabricated.
The facts are these: the child’s grandmother has a warm relationship with the foster carers and has dismissed these claims, the family are English-speaking and mixed-race, and an inquiry that addresses all the allegations made provides a very different narrative to the horror story given by The Times. The judge’s verdict on the case was that “The foster carers have not behaved in any way that was inconsistent with its provision of warm and appropriate care.”
However, the child has already been removed from the care of her foster parents, and the insidious and blatantly Islamophobic tabloid press has done its damage. There is already a distinct lack of Muslim foster carers, and headlines like these make the pool even smaller. For example, there are many more non-white children in the care system than there are non-white foster carers, but this goes unreported. Had the religious identities been reversed, had the fosterers’ native language been Spanish, or had the dietary restrictions been vegetarian, this media showdown would not exist.
Fostering is a complicated field, and the language used by the articles featuring this story do not reflect that. Sensationalism sells, and sales are valued above nuance. For example, “forced” is a word repeatedly used to describe the girl’s transition to her foster home, as well as the phrase “alien culture”. But any child who has recently been placed in any foster home has the potential to feel unfamiliar or alienated, regardless of race, culture or religion.
However, after this difficult period can come attachment and stability. Child AB (as she is referred to in reports) has expressed sadness at her removal from her foster carers, and has said that she misses them. Though she is currently residing with her maternal grandmother (also of Muslim faith), it is likely she will go back into the care system.
This truly is the most destructive part of the case. The effect of bouncing between foster homes and the care system could be catastrophic for the child’s happiness and health. The toxic stress of moving between unfamiliar environments has a destructive effect on neurocognitive systems and the brain architecture. According to a study conducted by the Urban Institute, “The result is poor academic performance, a lack of social competence, and an inability to regulate emotions.” Stability is a crucial factor for any child’s happiness, and the media has disastrously compromised that for the child in question.
Sadly, Islamophobic sentiment is becoming more acceptable in modern society, and this case is proof of that. From the ignition of tabloid headlines demonising the Muslim carers to Katie Hopkins’ spectacularly undue tweet, “Which individual at Tower Hamlets is responsible for the abuse of this little girl?” – the hostility that exists is shocking. Foster carers deserve recognition and praise for their service to the state, not condemnation. Muslim foster carers are few and far between, and we must change this. By demonising potential carers because of their religion and race, we continue to divide, rather than unite.

Image: Maxlkt via Pixabay

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