A foster carer with 10 years’ experience has won her legal battle this week after she was struck off when a Muslim girl in her care converted to Christianity.
The woman had been banned from fostering by Gateshead Council in November 2008 for failing to prevent the teenager from getting baptised.
The girl was aged 16 at the time and had made up her own mind to change religion.
Gateshead’s decision to deregister 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.
Her lawyers said the council had failed to take account of the girl’s right to religious liberty and had acted disproportionately in deregistering the foster carer.
Gateshead Council had wanted the girl to stay away from church for six months and said that the girl should take part in ‘normal’ teenage activity.
The foster carer was supported in her legal action by The Christian Institute, a leading national defender of religious liberty for Christians.
A court order protecting the identity of the girl is still currently in force. The foster carer does not wish to be named in case it leads to the identification of the girl.
Responding to the outcome, the foster carer said she is pleased that the council has finally admitted it was wrong.
But she says the decision to ban her has had a devastating impact. She said: “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 situation, 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.”
She added: “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.
“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.”
Her 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 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.”