Victory for Christian foster carer struck off after Muslim girl converts
A foster carer with 10 years’ experience has won her legal battle after she was struck off when a Muslim girl in her care converted to Christianity, it has emerged.
The foster carer had been banned by Gateshead Council for failing to prevent the teenager from getting baptised, even though the girl was then 16 and had made up her own mind to change religion.
Gateshead’s decision to de-register the foster carer has now been quashed by the High Court after the council admitted it had acted unlawfully.
The carer, a churchgoer in her 50s who has fostered more than 45 children, brought a Judicial Review against the Council after she had exhausted every other available remedy.
A court order protecting the identity of the girl ‘NS’ is still currently in force. The foster carer, ‘ED’, does not wish to be named in case it leads to the identification of NS in the wider community
ED’s solicitor is Nigel Priestley, Senior Partner of Ridley and Hall Solicitors in Huddersfield. He said: “My client gave Gateshead every opportunity to change its decision. They refused and a Judicial Review was issued. An order was made in her favour by the Administrative Court in Leeds this week. Gateshead finally accepted they had acted illegally. At the heart of this case is a young person’s right to choose her faith and a foster carer’s right to practice her faith.”
The foster carer, ED, commented: “I was shattered by the way Gateshead acted. I had worked closely with Social services for 9 years and I felt we had a good relationship. I had chosen to work for them because I thought they had a good reputation for their work with children.
“Gateshead’s actions have had a devastating impact on me. In addition to losing NS, another girl I was looking after was taken back into care. I lost the farmhouse I rented to look after vulnerable teenagers, due to the loss of income. I’ve had to move house four times because of my financial situtation, and I wasn’t able to help pay for my daughter’s wedding in the way I would have wished. The whole thing has been a living nightmare. I just want to get my life back. I am negotiating with the local authority to see what proposals they will make to restore my battered financial state. Despite my experiences, I still hope to foster again in the future. I simply enjoy helping young people.”
ED concluded: “I am grateful for the backing of the Newcastle based Christian Institute who supported me at what has been a very difficult time in my life (contact Mike Judge for comments). If other people of faith in positions of responsibility find themselves in a similar situation, they should not be frightened of standing up for what they believe.”
The Christian Institute’s Mike Judge said: “I am delighted that the council has admitted it acted illegally, but I am disappointed that it took a High Court legal action and this length of time before they held their hands up. There is clearly a lack of understanding about religious rights amongst individuals in Children’s Services at Gateshead. All local authorities should take a hard look at this case and ensure they do not repeat Gateshead’s mistakes.”
Nigel Priestley, Senior Partner of Ridley and Hall Solicitors Huddersfield set out the background:
- ED was highly regarded by Gateshead Council
- Gateshead knew about her faith background:
- NS’s placement
- Gateshead’s response
- On 20th March 2008 at Looked After Child Review NS informed the meeting that she had been baptised on 19th/20th January 2008, ‘with the permission of the social worker although this is disputed’. The independent reviewing officer had not been informed prior to the meeting and characterised this as a ‘massive change to the plan for NS which could have far reaching repercussions for the authority’.
- The local authority convened a ‘standards of care’ meeting to discuss the baptism of the child and the Claimant’s role as foster carer. A document prepared for that meeting by the Team Manager of the fostering service was entitled ‘failure by foster carer to protect the best interests of a vulnerable young person’. The document records;
- In early April 2008 ED had requested guidance from the local authority which informed her following the LAC review on 20th March 2008 that the young person NS was to be discouraged from attending a Christian Church. On 20th May 2008, the social worker from the Gateshead’s fostering service wrote to her detailing how she was expected to actively discourage NS from attending Church. The advice included the following advice:
- On 30th May 2009 NS wrote to the local authority and made a formal complaint about the way she and her foster carer had been treated regarding her baptism In a letter Gateshead apologised to NS and concluded ‘this issue has not been handled in the most sensitive and consistent manner and would like to apologise on behalf of the local authority’
- Despite the apology Gateshead deregistered ED in November 2008 as a foster carer
As a foster carer ED was subject to annual reviews between 1999 and January 2008 they were overwhelmingly positive. She was regarded as an effective and skilled carer. She had demonstrated particular expertise in caring for older adolescent children many of whom came into care with behavioural and other difficulties. She was also involved in training other foster carers. She sat on working groups within the local authority’s support networks for foster carers.
One report on her said “ED has a good awareness of discriminatory issues and is an excellent advocate for the children in her care. She is able to challenge issues appropriately if she feels it is in the best interests of the child.
She is a practicing Christian and a member of a large city-centre church in Newcastle. This fact has been known to Gateshead throughout the period of her registration as a foster carer. She has always practiced her faith openly. Much of her social life and her leisure time is spent socialising with friends from her Church. She regularly attends activities arranged by her Church. At no time up to January 2008 was she told that her faith or her association with the Church needed to be curtailed or restrained in the context of her professional duties as a foster carer.
On 30th November 2007 NS was placed with ED. She was a Muslim aged 16 years who had been voluntarily accommodated under s.20 of the Children Act 1989 at her own request. The child had suffered physical abuse from her father and he was undergoing a criminal prosecution as a result. ED was asked to provide a culturally and religiously appropriate environment for the young woman. This included the provision of Halal foods and assistance to her to obtain appropriate clothing. NS indicated to her carer that she would choose her own dress and food. She tended to chose the non-traditional option.
The child’s social worker was clearly aware of the fact that the child was attending the NCLC. No issue was raised regarding her attendance at the Church. NS chose to attend the Church. ED offered the young woman alternative arrangements and sought to support her to undertake other activities while she attended Church. NS had however been exploring her faith for two years before placement and had attended a Christian group at school in years 9 and 10
On 13th January 2008, NS informed the Claimant that she planned to undergo a baptism at the Church. Following a discussion with the pastor, both the ED and the pastor advised NS to notify her social worker and to obtain consent from her. Both her social worker and her team manager were told about the baptism and NS considered they had given the consent of the Council to the Baptism. NS went ahead with the baptism.
No steps were taken by the children’s services team or the fostering service as regards either ED or the child NS. It was not raised in discussions or in writing with by either the fostering service or children’s services department of the local authority.
i.That the foster carer should have prevented the baptism
ii.That she should have steered the child away from the baptism which is described as a ‘hasty action’
iii.That the social worker and team manager denied giving consent and that ED had failed to contact the fostering service as she was advised to do
iv.It records that the child had acted in breach of Sharia law and endangered her own safety.
i.Do not transport NS to Church
ii.Encourage her to visit friends or partake in other activities which a 16 year old would normally partake in