Among the last ones to leave? Understanding the Journeys of Muslim Children in the Care System in England

Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor, Alison Halford, Mphatso Jones Boti Phiri, Savita De Souza

    Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report


    Children of Muslim heritage are likely to experience significant delay in finding a fostering or adoptive placement and where a child has complex needs due to health, disability, age, mixed or multiple heritage background or being part of a sibling group, finding permanent placement takes even longer. In some cases, they may never find a permanent home at all. Such delays cause lasting harm for children and according to Selwyn et al, ‘delay in decision making and action has an unacceptable price in terms of the reduction in children’s life chances and the financial costs to local authorities, the emotional and financial burden later placed on adoptive families and future costs to society’ (2006). Policy makers’ response has been to emphasise transracial placements so that the process of finding a permanent home is expedited for these children.

    Through interviews with social workers, foster carers, adoptive parents and prospective adoptive parents, this research presents a research-informed narrative of the complexities in Muslim children’s circumstances and identities, which influence how decisions are made about their lives. By better understanding the journeys of these children through the care system, this research will provide an evidence base for practitioners, policy makers and communities to draw upon, and in doing so will improve outcomes for these children, their families and for society as a whole.

    This research provides strong evidence of the salience of Islam to Muslim children’s identities. When children come into care they experience upheaval, displacement and trauma – in such contexts faith is familiar and enables children to be resilient. If in their new home, children’s faith and ethnic needs are provided, they are happier, are more settled and attach better and sooner to their carers. Foster carers and adopters agree that faith is central to their identities too, that faith motivates them to care for the children they look after and that they may be best placed to meet the needs of children who come from ethnic and religious backgrounds similar to their own. For adopters there was an additional emphasis on the child they adopted ‘looking like them’.

    Based on this key finding of the salience of religion to the formation, evolution and preservation of the identities of children in public care, we suggest 7 inter-related recommendations for policy makers, social workers, carers and for the Muslim community to take forward. We do not assign a particular recommendation to a particular group, instead we call for joined-up thinking and collective action from these stakeholders, aimed at prioritising each child’s welfare, security and happiness.

    As a final word we emphasise the good practice that we can evidence in how social workers address the faith needs of Muslim children. The story is by no means only about good practice. Indeed, we have found evidence of blind-spots and lacunae. Nevertheless for a profession that faces regular unfair coverage from the media, it is important to emphasise the strengths of the profession and the conscientious care it provides to the most vulnerable children in our societies. Our intention with this report, is to celebrate and share the good practice and where there are blind-spots to engage critically but also collegially to fill the gaps in provision.

    The seven recommendations we make on the basis of this project are as follows:

    Recommendation 1: Include religion in SSDA903 returns and the national DfE database on looked after children

    Recommendation 2: Recognise the salience of faith in children’s journeys through the care system and enhance the faith literacy of social work practitioners and policy makers.

    Recommendation 3: Develop and disseminate Islamic theological guidance on adoption and fostering that prioritises the children’s needs.

    Recommendation 4: Where required adoptive parents need be offered theological advice on the issue of establishing Mahram relations with their adopted children. If they choose to lactate their children they should be offered medical support

    Recommendation 5: The agreements between Islamic modesty guidelines and safeguarding policy need to be shared with Muslim foster carers.

    Recommendation 6: In line with the recommendation of the Education Select Committee, more outreach, information and recruitment work needs to be undertaken with diverse British Muslim communities to increase the number of Muslim foster carers and adopters.

    Recommendation 7: Need to evaluate the impact of the removal of ethnicity from adoption law and guidance in England on practice.
    Original languageEnglish
    PublisherPenny Appeal
    Number of pages38
    Publication statusPublished - 2018


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