Print Version: VCF calls for independent review into adoption process for a Somali child in Harrow
As the adoption reforms continue through the Children and Families Bill, the issue of religious and cultural identity and heritage again comes to the fore as a young Somali girl is matched with a white lesbian couple in Harrow. Whilst the media have been handed an easy headline, it was the direct action by the Somali community that has taken many by surprise.
The Victoria Climbié Foundation UK (VCF) is an independent advocacy organisation offering casework support, advice and assistance to children and families involved with children’s services, alongside our campaign for improvements to child protection policies and practice and for effective coordination and links between statutory agencies and the community.
VCF seeks to place some context around the concerns within this case, alongside the wider concerns for many within the Somali community. Our organisation was approached by the child’s mother and family members on the day before she was due to attend a ‘goodbye’ meeting with her 3-year old child. She had previously raised her concerns about the adoption and was assured that a meeting would be arranged to discuss matters. Instead, she received a letter that summoned her to attend final contact.
The strength of feeling within the community led to a demonstration of about 50 Muslim women of Somali origin outside Harrow Civic Centre, who on behalf of the child’s mother came together to protest against the claim by Harrow Council that there were “no Muslim adopters at all”. Since media coverage of this case, VCF has received messages from interested parties, including offers to adopt this child.
For VCF, the issue in this case is not about the sexual orientation of the prospective adopters, although there are many within the community, from multiple faiths, who are unable to reconcile homosexuality with their religious beliefs. For most it is a question of the child’s cultural heritage and identity.
It is important to know that the family in this case is not contesting the adoption; rather they wished that their religious and cultural values had been considered during assessments. Four family members were assessed, none of whom have been informed that they failed, nor on what basis. We believe the reported delays in this case could have been avoided if the family had been effectively engaged in the process.
Local authorities should seek to effectively involve families in child protection processes and consider a more respectful and dignified approach to parents who for whatever reason have had their child removed from their care. Parents with mental health issues, as in this case, are not bad; and as such they should be helped by a system that in principle is set up to offer such support. In this case a therapeutic approach to social work might have helped.
Undoubtedly, this case falls into the ‘unintended consequences’ category of the recent reforms when councils seek to hide behind legislation rather than adopt a common-sense approach to practice.
Clearly, we need to continue the debate, to determine a practical solution for an increasing issue facing local authorities. Often, it is this lack of sensitivity and the notion of ‘hard to reach’ that is the barrier to community members signing on as foster carers or adopters. Through our work with BAAF, we have continued to raise awareness of the requirement to register private fostering arrangements, which for many in the BME community is the norm and not a financial arrangement.
VCF is calling for an independent review of this case to aid learning for others facing a shortage of prospective adopters within their local authority, and for a proactive and less punitive approach to attracting BME foster carers and adopters.
For advice and help on how to foster or adopt a child: http://www.baaf.org.uk
VCF Community Engagement Model