Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Foster parents seek exemption

I have mixed feelings about the case of foster parents Eunice and Owen Johns who say they have a right to foster children despite being unprepared to remain silent about their views that homosexuality is wrong.

The issue in cases such as this should always be the interests of the child. It is clearly not in the interests of a child who is, or may be, homosexual to be fostered or adopted by a couple who actively promulgate such views. It could be described as an infrigement of the child's right not to be discriminated against, and the authorities placing such a child could be failing in their duty of care.

What is interesting in this case is that the prospective foster parents were offering respite care to children aged five to ten. I do wonder how likely it is that the issue of homosexuality is going to arise with children of this age, also, as respite carers they would not be the main influence on the child, the biological parents would. Perhaps then the ability of the foster parents to offer loving respite care should be much more important.

However, it also occurs to me that this case could be very easily resolved by the foster parents agreeing that, in the unlikely event that such a topic arises, they were to say that they preferred not to discuss the topic and suggested the child asked the parents at home. The couple say that they do not wish to lie, but this is not lying!

Mr and Mrs. Johns are not alone in the expectations placed upon them. It would not be acceptable for a teacher, or social worker, or coach, or probation officer to tell a young person that homosexuality was wrong. As a teacher, I am not allowed to say, for example, that it is "wrong" for couples to cohabit, or that I think Muslims are infidels, or atheists are going to hell, or that fat people are just greedy and lazy, or that people on benefits are scroungers, or that Christians are stupid, or that Jehovah's Witnesses banging on the door are intrusive and annoying.

This is entirely right, however strongly I may hold these views. My students may have parents who cohabit, they may be Muslims, or atheists, or fat, or on benefits, or Christians, or Jehovah's Witnesses. During the recent election, we were reminded that we should not attempt to influence our students' voting choices, some members of staff believe that, even if asked, a teacher should refrain from revealing how they personally vote. This is not to say that discussion is not allowed. When asked what I think, I tell students if it is appropriate, but I always say that it doesn't matter what I think, what matters is what they think! In certain cases, I might even have to refrain from expressing my views.

Foster parents are not just private individuals, they are employed in a professional capacity. It is right and proper to expect them to behave in a professional manner.


  1. Thanks for this. My wife is a child-prot solicitor so i have vested interest in the topic at hand.

    My view is pragmatic. They foster because they are deemed to be good people and capable of offering a sorely needed haven of safety to our most vulnerable little ones. They have views and opinions the same as I do in my prieshood (and let us not forget too how many Christian ministers condemn the gay community to hell in their preaching). If, God forbid, my children were fostered, I would far sooner they were placed with people of integrity to their own views, and who could articulate that appropriately, than someone who formed few views on anything. I prefer integrity, not faceless professionalism (within reason, of course).

    Whilst I (absolutely and vehemently) disagree with the couple in question on the issue raised, to withold a fostering from them, and to deny a child some love - all on the basis that a viewpoint is held that is unpalateable, is something I would find even worse.

    I think smoking is abhorrent, Islamophobia, and fox hunting too - and would say as much. The authorities must therefore consider me unsuitable of fostering then, and also every decent person I know who has views on the world around them.

  2. As a foster carer and a Christian I perhaps have more than a passing interest in the outcome of this case!

    Just to add a correction, foster carers are not employed, we receive an allowance. Doesn't affect our professionalism though. Or shouldn't.

  3. In some ways this has a resonance with the post I made on my blog earlier today:


    A good deal of the preoccupation of my post is perception. It seems to link in with this post in that it seems a common misconception that foster parents do what they do out of the goodness of their hearts. Obviously to some extent they do; few of us offer ourselves as foster parents. That said, foster parents are also in the pay of the local authority (usual payment is around £750 a week per child – it can be much more and can be less). Like you say, as a professional person you have to place your personal beliefs to one side. As a social worker in cancer care I would often (given the demographics of the hospital’s catchment area) find myself working with a devout African Christian or Bangladeshi Muslim who would tell me that Jesus or Allah was going to cure their cancer. This made the work difficult, particularly if the person had children that would need care after the parent’s death – lots of planning needed etc. and not easy when the patient refuses to talk about the issue, convinced God was going to do a miracle. After several years of this, I wanted to say ‘Look, you’re dying, you can say ‘Jesus will heal me’ till you’re blue in the face but I know you will die because everyone dies of the cancer you have, at the stage it is at!’ (and of course they did die). Did I say this, no, because I respected the person’s beliefs. Similarly I would comment when client’s made racist or the like remarks, not to do so would go against my professional role (even if I sometimes felt some sympathy with the client).

    If the couple were fostering children without financial gain, then yes, by all means they should not be forced to promote a given worldview. As it is, they are in the pay of the council just as you are in the pay of your school and I of my university – besides the professional standards I am expected to keep to retain my social work qualification. Like you say there are ways around the issue – but instead it’s let’s go down the easy road of cheap morality and queer-bashing. I used to really respect Cary – I have met him on several occasions, both formal and informal (a friend was on his personal staff at Lambeth Palace) and always got on with him very well. But after he butted his nose into the Gary MacFarlane debacle (the Relate sex therapist who was happy to counsel unmarried couples, but found it un-Biblical to counsel homosexual couples) I lost trust in his judgement and come to the conclusion he is just a bigoted a***-hole. I’m sure there are more important things he could concern himself with than ‘professional martyrs’ like this couple.

    Bit of trivia – I was fostered as a child, but I can’t remember much about it now.


  4. For what its worth I agree, especially your suggestion that they simply agree not to discuss the matter but redirect back to the biological parents.

    Simple really, however, I suspect that certain Christian legal groups don't like the simple approach....

    ps just discovered your blog and glad I have. Got you in my feedreader now.

  5. Chris H - same us ordained Anglicans then - thanks for the enlightenment on that, and I apologise for the mistake

  6. The Problem with Religion - £750 a week! Show me where to sign up! Local Authorities will generally have a lower allowance than a private agency but even when we've fostered severely disabled children requiring a lot of care and attention we would never get anything like that much.

  7. No need for an apology Fr David! As things stand at the moment the allowance is just that, even the tax office recognises it as such. There is a big push though to get foster carers paid and to have it recognised as a professional career. Who knows how it will work out at the moment though.

  8. My comment earlier didn't seem to have got through.
    I agree that children aged 5 to 10 are unlikely to be aware of their sexuality, but they may well have older gay brothers and sisters or, like my girls, a civil partnered mother.

    I'm fascinating by this conversation where liberals are trying to make allowances and space for other opinions. I question whether they would do this if the couple in question had said they did not believe in the equal moral status of black people, and whether they would support a racist couple that told Social Services they would tell the children in their care that black people are inferior.

    And it intrigues me that being homophobic is still that little bit ok even for those who are, themselves, not homophobic.

  9. There is clearly a lot of interest in this issue and I can sympathise with a lot of the different views. Very interesting points, I am tempted to do a whole new blog post (but I have to cook tea soon...)

    David, you say,
    "I think smoking is abhorrent, Islamophobia, and fox hunting too - and would say as much. The authorities must therefore consider me unsuitable of fostering then, and also every decent person I know who has views on the world around them."

    I hope the issue at stake isn't "having views". I am quite able to accept that other people have strong views, even views that I find utterly abhorrent, and I support their right to hold them and to express them. That said there are certain contexts and ways in which you cannot express views. If you were fostering a child whose parents smoked, I assume you would not tell the child that people who smoke are disgusting/ evil/ filthy/ unfit to be parents or whatever. You might provide factual information about the dangers of smoking - even in this factual realm and on an issue which is very much about child welfare, you would have to be careful, depending on the age of the child or how you handled it!

    I don't hold the view that everyone who disapproves of homosexual practice is evil and nasty. I believe they have a right to hold those views, even though I would argue against them. I think they are probably capable of providing a great and loving home for a child.

    I don't want to live in a state where people are not free to hold different views, or to express them. But- I don't think that means people are free to express every view in every context and every role.

    There is also a point of view that says that the Johns seem to be putting THEIR right to "express their views" above their desire to offer a good home to a child. Isn't that a bit strange? Why are they fostering? If it is 100% to give a child care and some stability, why is this an issue? What is most important to them?

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  11. Hi Erika,
    In respite care the respite family is usually introduced to the biological family (my niece has respite care.) If the two families don't really get on, then the biological family can say "no". It would be insupportable to place a child with civilly partnered parents with this family, but it might work for another family. This is what worries me about this case, I think the problems could be solved with some flexibility on both sides. I do wonder if what has happened is that different parties (social services and the Johns) have become locked in an ideological battle over the issue? I don't know enough to say for sure though.

    I think you are right that some people still feel it is more acceptable to express strong views about homosexuality than anything else. I don't hear people with "traditional views on sex" campaigning to have the right to tell people who are cohabiting that they are sinful, or standing outside nightclubs handing out leaflets warning heterosexuals they will go to hell if they fornicate! They seem to by and large tolerate, or at least be able to show a nominal respect towards the millions of heterosexual fornicators up and down Britain...amazing isn't it:)

    I have my pet theory (as always) - until a few decades ago it was commonplace for people to deride, mock, humilate and condemn gay people with impunity. Some Christians are still in shock at not being allowed to behave this way!

    Of course, some will say that to believe acting on homosexual desires is sinful is NOT homophobic, being homophobic is to do with the way you treat the person - all that "hate the sin, love the sinner " stuff. I suppose that is one reason some people see homophobia as not quite on the same level as racism?