There is a chilling account in the Daily Telegraph of children being removed from foster carers by Rotherham Council. The foster carers were doing an "exemplary" job and the three ethnic minority children were thriving. However the social workers discovered that the couple were supporters of UKIP, and on those grounds the children were removed.
The husband and wife have been fostering for nearly seven years, but fear that the council will not place children with them again. The couple "are in their late 50s and live in a neat detached house in a village in South Yorkshire. The husband was a Royal Navy reservist for more than 30 years and
works with disabled people, while his wife is a qualified nursery nurse." They are former Labour voters.
The Telegraph reports:
Just under eight weeks into the placement, they received a visit out of the blue from the children’s social worker at the Labour-run council and an official from their fostering agency.
They were told that the local safeguarding children team had received an anonymous tip-off that they were members of Ukip.
The wife recalled: “I was dumbfounded. Then my question to both of them was, 'What has Ukip got to do with having the children removed?’
“Then one of them said, 'Well, Ukip have got racist policies’. The implication was that we were racist. [The social worker] said Ukip does not like European people and wants them all out of the country to be returned to their own countries.
“I’m sat there and I’m thinking, 'What the hell is going off here?’ because I wouldn’t have joined Ukip if they thought that.
"I’ve got mixed race in my family. I said, 'I am absolutely offended that you could come in my house and accuse me of being a member of a racist party’.”
The wife said she told the social worker and agency official: “These kids have been loved. These kids have been treated no differently to our own children. We wouldn’t have taken these children on if we had been racist.
The social worker told the wife:
“We would not have placed these children with you had we known you were members of Ukip because it wouldn’t have been the right cultural match.”
The paper quotes Tim Loughton, the former children’s minister, saying that "being a supporter of a mainstream political party is not a deal-breaker when it comes to looking after children if it means they can have a loving family home.” Well it obviously is in Rotherham. Mr Loughton understates the objection when he says it shouldn't be a "deal-breaker." It is a grotesque in a free society for it to be a consideration at all.
I wonder where the anonymous tip-off came from. A Labour councillor canvassed them and found they had switched to UKIP and passed this on to a municipal apparatchik to ensure the children were seized? Was a UKIP membership card spotted during a social work visit? Was incriminating evidence of UKIP membership found in a recycling sack as part of a surveillance operation? One reason to be proud to be British is that this sort of thing happens in other countries, but not here. Except that it has.
With stories of this type I always look for the official response from the council once the issue has been highlighted. Is this one of those cases where a mistake has been acknowledged, an apology issued, the explanation given that junior staff had acted in breach of the general policy?
No. A spokesman for Rotherham Council says:
“After a group of sibling children were placed with agency foster carers, issues were raised regarding the long-term suitability of the carers for these particular children.
"With careful consideration, a decision was taken to move the children to alternative care. We continue to keep the situation under review.”
Rotherham Borough Council's Strategic Director of Children and Young People's Services, Joyce Thacker, tells the BBC:
"We always try to place children in a sensible cultural placement.
"These children are not UK children and we were not aware of the foster parents having strong political views. There are some strong views in the UKIP party and we have to think of the future of the children."
So the prejudice shown by Rotherham Council was not a random lapse. It is deliberate, firmly established policy. That makes the scandal much worse. If it is not illegal already then it certainly should be – at the very least there needs to be some clarification on this point.
The councillors should take some responsibility. Cllr Paul Lakin is the Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Families Services. The scandal has happened on his watch. He should resign. This is a council where the councillors insist of travelling first class at the Council Taxpayers expense.
Rotherham has 390 children in care or "Looked After Children" as they are known. It has a higher proportion (70 per 10,000) than in England (59 per 10,000), and higher than the average in Yorkshire.
For Rotherham children in care the outcomes are even worse than for LAC children nationally. What are they learning? The measure for 11-year-olds is reaching Level 4 or above in Key Stage 2 tests. Among all children nationally the number of children who reach this is 74%. For children in care nationally it is 40%. For Rotherham it is 35%. In terms of offending by children in care the national percentage convicted or subject to a final warning or reprimand was 7.3% nationally. For Rotherham it was 8.7%. Substance misuse is 4.3% nationally but 7.6% in Rotherham.
Rotherham Council is putting political bigotry ahead of the interests of children. The social workers of Rotherham make false accusations of racism against UKIP supporters while ignoring the institutional racism which is keeping black children in care. One of the reasons that adopted children fare so much better than children in care is that there is not the disruption of being shunted between different foster carers. Yet in Rotherham this is done without valid reasons.
The state should be the the servant, not the master of the people. I am angry about the politics of what has happened, and the discrimination against the couple. But the victims are the children.