Faith, fostering and social work – a discussion
It’s a difficult question in today’s social work. In a diverse society where people of many faiths mix, how representative are the caring professions of this mix? I don’t yet have the statistical answers to that question but it seems that the climate is not in favour of persons of faith when it comes to employment in fostering. One relatively recent case highlights the discussion.
In a landmark ruling in 2011, as reported by BBC News, religious affairs correspondent, Roger Pigott, said, “the court said that while there was a right not to face discrimination on the basis on either religion or sexual orientation, equality of sexual orientation took precedence”. As of 2013 the Christian Legal Centre was still following up their case (Christians in the Firing Line by Dr Richard Scott).
The nub of the problem in this case appears to be the Johns’ position that they would be unable to tell a young person that being homosexual was OK as it would counter their spiritual beliefs. In all other respects there is no direct suggestion in the publicly available information that they would not have made good carers. However since they had previously fostered in the 1990’s, new legislation had been introduced and the world of fostering and social work had moved on.
Needless to say their case attracted a range of responses, from other Christians supporting the Johns’ position to those calling them bigots, highlighting the diversity of opinion in modern Britain.
If the Johns’ were suitable carers in all other respects it seems unfortunate they were not allowed to return to a profession they had previously enjoyed. All the more so in an environment where more foster carers are to be welcomed. Of course, how they handle expressing their faith-based views should not be ignored and a part of their assessment and training should have included elements of going beyond stating their own beliefs, to understanding if they were able to acknowledge and express that others hold different beliefs, and how well they could work alongside other professionals who come from different religious persuasions and viewpoints.
Unfortunate though in that the fostering profession is wanting to encourage diversity; it would make for a very unequal and unrepresentative workforce if everyone has to fit the same narrow mould. There are places for more carers from different ethnic, religious, social (an often overlooked element) and even political backgrounds, regardless of different opinions.
In court for the Johns’ the Christian Legal Centre argued that “all the major religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) teach against homosexual conduct” and that “all hold to the orthodox view that any sexual union outside of marriage between one man and one woman is morally undesireable”. The court responded that whilst homosexuality is a capital offence under Sharia law in some places, the Church of England allows for same sex partnerships for its clergy as long as they remain celibate within that relationship (!) (Scott), and that there is no place in British law for Christian beliefs.
Clearly then, the ruling against the Johns’ has wider implications for both British society and adherents of all faiths in the caring professions.
If parents of children in public care are to stand a chance in having their religious preferences for their children honoured then this diversity is essential. In ruling that equality of sexuality takes precedence over the right to religious belief, the door to fostering will have been closed to many who might otherwise have made suitable and good foster carers and narrowed down the options for diversity.
A good fostering agency (private or statutory) will be able to manage these differences through the placement matching process, which already takes into account ethnicity, cultural and religious preferences of parents where expressed, age ranges and the child’s presenting behaviours; try as we might there is no such thing as the 100% perfect match.
In the wider picture this seems to have been an unfortunate ruling and that in going to court on this case all parties might just have shot themselves in the foot!
[This blog is not advocating that the Johns should have been approved as foster carers. This is not possible without further detailed information than is available in the public domain. The purpose is to look at issues affecting the fostering profession, particularly as I prepare to return to my role as a Form F Assessor.]
Christians in the Firing Line, Dr Richard Scott, 2013, Wilberforce Publications, London, ISBN 978-0-9575725-1-5
Johns’ case news reporting:
BBC News online – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-derbyshire-12598896
Guardian News online – http://www.theguardian.com/society/2011/feb/28/christian-couple-lose-care-case
Telegraph online – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/8353496/Foster-parent-ban-no-place-in-the-law-for-Christianity-High-Court-rules.html and http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/8355786/Our-Christianity-is-our-lifestyle-we-cant-take-it-on-and-off.html
Responses to the news reports:
National Secular Society – http://www.secularism.org.uk/children-should-be-protected-fro.html
David Cameron as reported in the Daily Telegraph – http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/8370280/David-Cameron-defends-ban-on-anti-gay-foster-parents.html