The Meandering Social Worker

wandering : wondering : learning

Archive for the tag “sexual orientation”

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 –

Daily Mail News online –

Guardian News online –

Telegraph online – and

Responses to the news reports:

National Secular Society –

David Cameron as reported in the Daily Telegraph –




Making Assumptions

Some years ago I worked in a social work team where one of the social workers came from Glasgow.  Now this team was in southern England, nearly as far from Scotland as you could get.  When a newly qualified social worker joined us who also happened to be from Glasgow it was assumed that these two would have a natural understanding, and were put together for supervision purposes.  After all they were both from the same country and a long way from home, and the older more experienced social worker would surely be the ideal one to support the new worker?

What, in our southern ignorance, we did not realise was that they came from opposite sides of Glasgow.  Opposite cultures within the same city.  Opposing football teams to support.  Natural enemies even.

Fortunately their professionalism enabled them to overcome the differences in their cultures, and no doubt shake their heads at the southerners’ ignorance.

It’s easy to make assumptions like that.

Even in the setting up of asylum teams in the 1990’s we made the same mistakes.  There was somehow an assumption that because asylum seekers were in the same situation, escaping war torn countries, it was sometimes overlooked that they had escaped from opposing countries in the same war!  With hindsight it was obvious, but what foolish mistakes were made at the time.

While I was travelling in Siberian Russia for a while I happened to stay for a week in a town where I was the first European they had seen in living memory.  The evening before I was leaving a young English backpacker arrived in a bar on the other side of town.  Immediately telephone calls were made and mechanisms put in place to put us in touch with each other.  Let’s call him Jay.  It was naturally assumed, that being from the same country, we would want to meet up and talk.

Actually it was good to meet Jay, less because we were both English than because we were both travellers and could compare travel notes.  Having the same first language was merely an advantage.

The impression was given that if two Russians found themselves alone in a foreign country they would want to meet.  But I wonder if that is true?

Jay and I were several years apart in age, he was a recent graduate taking a gap year while I had studied in later life, he came from a relatively privileged background while I definitely originated from “working class” stock.  I was travelling by car, he was backpacking.  Back in England it was unlikely we would have naturally met up and socialised.

Staying in an Andean village, well stuck actually due to a breakdown, the villagers would come rushing over saying “amigo, amigo?” every time another European passed through.  The same assumptions were being made.

On another occasion I met two young English girls in a backpackers’ hostel in Costa Rica.  Well, I say ‘met’, but that is probably too strong a word for it.  We happened to be staying in the same dorm room in the same hostel.  They were clearly completely confounded to find someone old enough to be their mother, maybe even their grandmother, staying in such a hostel and never managed to look me in the eye such was their complete inability to know how to handle such a situation.

Age, class (yes it still exists), wealth, education, employment, sociability, family, sexual orientation, geographical location, politics, religion, hobbies and interests.  These and more are all potential divisive factors even in our home countries.  Sure, they can all be overcome, but how many times have I seen police and ‘front line’ social and health workers gravitate to share socialising because their jobs bring them into natural contact and there is a sense of safety in that familiarity?  And why is it unusual to see CEOs down the pub with the postman or plumber?

I’m not suggesting its right or wrong, it just is.  The lovely people in that small Siberian town might be surprised at how different the lives are of people from Moscow, and that maybe the mere sharing of the same language is not a foundation for anything more than a brief passing friendship, just as was my contact with Jay.

Scottish, English, African, Latin American, indigenous; wealthy and poor; young and old; educated or not (which has nothing to do with intelligence); capitalist, environmentalist, socialist; and more.  We are all a mixture of different ingredients, unique in our own way.  As we practice that difference in our own lives, let us also remember the differences in those we work with, both as colleagues and clients.

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