Criminals allowed to foster but smacking couple banned

The council which recently banned a Christian couple from fostering because of their views on smacking will happily consider couples with a criminal record.

Somerset County Council recently rejected a fostering application from David and Heather Bowen because they have lawfully smacked their own child when necessary.

Although the Bowens have been banned, the council’s website says it will consider couples who have a criminal record.

A spokesman for the council says a person with a criminal record who has learned from their mistakes could even be an “asset” in helping children in care.

The council’s fostering policy states, “If you have a criminal record of any kind we will do a check with the Criminal Records Bureau at an early stage and a senior manager will decide if you can proceed.”

Even a conviction for harming another person doesn’t mean a couple will be automatically banned from fostering. The council says it is merely “unlikely” that such a couple would be successful.

The council issued a statement clarifying its position on foster applicants who have a criminal record. According to the council, the policy “makes it clear that any criminal offence could bar someone from fostering but does leave it open for there to be a discussion about what happened and when.

“It recognises that people can change, an offence of criminal damage at the age of 18 for example may not be so serious as to preclude someone from ever working with or caring for children.

“Our policy acknowledges people’s ability to develop and learn from their mistakes which may be an asset when assisting young people in care.

“However we are absolutely clear that we would never approve a carer who would pose any kind of risk to a child or be an inappropriate role model.”

Critics have accused the council of warped standards. Lib Dem MP, John Hemming, said: “There are very strange senses of priorities in children’s services.”

“Those people who work in public family law seem to believe that they create their own law – and they are a law unto themselves,” he added.

The council’s decision to ban the Christian couple because of their views on smacking goes beyond the requirements of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering (BAAF), which advises local authorities. A BAAF spokesman said: “Our only guideline is that foster parents abide by the law.”

In England it is lawful for parents to use ‘reasonable chastisement’ as long as it does not leave more than a transitory mark on the child.

The Christian couple is appealing against the decision of Somerset County Council and consulting with the Christian Legal Centre over filing a Judicial Review.