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Expert Comment: Rotherham Fostering Row

Child being cared for Wednesday 5 December 2012

Philomena Harrison and Rose Deveraux from Liverpool Hope's Department of Social Care, Work and Justice look at the implications of the Rotherham fostering row, in which a couple who were members of the UK Independence Party had three foster children removed from their care.

As the dust settles in Rotherham and the politicians unpin their ribbons and return to Westminster, maybe even into their constituencies, what of the future of the children whose lives were plastered across the media in the week leading up to the recent by-elections in Rotherham?

As practitioners and educators we support the decision made by the local authority, as corporate parents, to put the needs of the child/children first. These needs, as outlined in the childcare and safeguarding legislation focus on dimensions of need which include that of identity.  In this case the ethnic and cultural identity of the children. This analysis needs to go beyond a naive one which focuses on one aspect of difference, for example religious needs. It is not just about ‘Divali and samosas’.

Social work has a long history of negating the needs of BME (black and minority ethnic) children in its care at great cost to the children – Jasmine Beckford, Victoria Climbie. Our work with looked after children has frequently focussed on direct work with LAC (looked after children) who have been troubled by issues relating to their racial, ethnic and cultural needs. This has arisen out of a lack of planning and consideration for these needs, derived out of a system where the prevailing political and social ideologies have been strongly influenced by integration and assimilation and one where there is a simplistic view that ‘love conquers all’. We feel enormous concern about appropriate placements of children as we speed up adoption and fast track social work education.

The children in Rotherham were accommodated temporarily and it seems a decision was made to remove them to more appropriate placement where their race, ethnic and cultural needs would be best fulfilled. The fulfilment of these needs would not then be left to carers who appeared to subscribe to a political party which is committed to ending multiculturalism. We too would express concern at the ideological context of such an upbringing for BME children, let alone any children, and the impact on their sense of self and self esteem.  

When the corporate parent hands out its duties of care, let it do so to people who put the needs of the child first. Further, that these needs are understood in complex ways and include a clear understanding of the child’s minority status and the impact of Racism and discrimination in British society today.

Social Work Education at Liverpool Hope University will continue to set a framework for training which includes values which address inequalities and discrimination and promotes social justice for all. We will continue to work to enable our students to develop a strong critical knowledge and practice base which will recognise discrimination and find effective and active ways of challenging.

The decisions in Rotherham had to be about the children, not the foster carers.


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