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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 June 2018

British Christian girl removed from care of Muslim foster parents

Unnamed five-year-old child is returned to her grandmother's care following decision at family court

The court heard that the five-year-old girl had been distressed by her placements
The court heard that the five-year-old girl had been distressed by her placements

A British Christian child who had been placed by a London council with Muslim foster parents has been removed from their care and sent to live with her grandparents. The East London family court said that local authorities in future should seek to make “culturally matched placements” for vulnerable infants in their care.

In a case which has become a major talking point in Britain, Judge Khatun Sapnara, a practising Muslim and the first person of Bangladeshi origin to reach a senior position in the country’s legal system, said it was in the five-year-old girl’s best interests to be looked after by her grandmother, who could best meet her needs “in terms of ethnicity, culture and religion”.

The case took on a further twist when claims emerged on Wednesday that the child's birth mother was herself born into the Muslim faith, although the woman's parents were said to be non-practising.

Reports claimed that court documents showed the girl's maternal grandparents were of a Muslim background.

The child, who cannot be named nor have the details of why they were fostered for legal reasons, was taken into care by Tower Hamlets council in east London in March this year, and subsequently spent periods of time with two Muslim families. During their first placement, which lasted for four months, it was reported by The Times that the girl was living with a family who did not often speak English at home and encouraged her to learn Arabic.

It was also alleged that a necklace which had a cross on it that the child wore was taken away from her, due to it being a Christian symbol, and that food which had been prepared by her birth mother – a meal of pasta and carbonara sauce – was taken away from her because it contained bacon.

Her second placement, which had been in place until Tuesday, was with a family where the mother wore a burkha in public and covered her face. It is claimed that the child would regularly eat her meals on the floor in this residence.

It has also been reported by the Daily Mail that the child told her birth mother during an access visit that one of the families had told her that “Christmas and Easter are stupid” and that “European women [were] stupid and alcoholic”. The girl’s social worker told of how she became “tearful and distressed” when she had to be returned to the first home after family visits.

It is a legal requirement for British local authorities to ensure that any placements they make of children with foster families takes into account the “religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background” of the individual.

Judge Sapnara told lawyers representing Tower Hamlets council that her “overriding concern [was] the welfare of the little girl”.

“You would presumably accept that the priority should be an appropriate, culturally matched placement that meets the needs of the child in terms of ethnicity, culture and religion?” she asked. The local authority replied that when the child first came into their care, there were no white British foster carers available.

The council said: “The decision to choose foster carers for a child is based on a number of factors including cultural background and proximity to contact with the child’s family . . . in order to give them as much stability as possible.”

The case was first revealed by The Times on Monday; after they informed Tower Hamlets that they were planning on running the story, the local authority sought to have the story blocked from running by a court order, on the grounds they claimed that the newspaper had access to confidential court documents that had been unlawfully leaked to it.

Judge Sapnara dismissed this application to stop the story, saying that she “would not stand in the way of the freedom of the press to report, within the law and in a responsible manner, in respect of this case”.

The child’s long-term future is set to be decided at a future hearing; until then she will continue to see her birth mother in meetings supervised by Tower Hamlets staff.