This morning we awoke to a story that sounded like something from the worst nightmares of Paul Dacre’s feverish imagination. Rotherham Council had reportedly removed three children from their foster carers, based on the carers’ membership of UKIP. Nigel Farage, Michael Gove and Ed Miliband have all piled in to condemn the decision. An absolutely shambolic performance in a BBC interview by Rotherham Council’s Joyce Thacker didn’t do anything to dispel the outrage gathering across the media.
But does this story have proper substance? When I read it this morning, there was a distinct whiff of bovine ordure to it. Although I regularly come into contact with looked-after children, I’m not an expert on the fostering process. However, my co-bloggers Ermintrude2 and Abe Laurens are both experienced social workers, and the latter is particularly experienced at working with looked-after children. I promptly sought out their opinions, and their advice has informed this blog post.
There’s a couple of things we already know about the case from the media reports. First, we know that these children were always meant to be staying with the couple temporarily, and there was never any suggestion that this would be a long-term placement. I’d say that’s a big clue from the word go.
We also know that in a previous court case the judge had criticised the council for not adequately attending to the childrens’ cultural needs.
But as well as what we know, we also have to remember what we don’t know. The local authority will have a duty of confidentiality to these children. They won’t be in a position to go into the ins and outs of why they couldn’t continue to be housed by this particular foster family. When I asked Abe Laurens, he commented that, “In my experience such decisions are NEVER made on any single factor alone.” We don’t know what the other factors were.
But there’s something else we do know, and it almost certainly acts as a great big klaxon telling us exactly what this is really about. There’s a by-election in Rotherham on Thursday. A Labour seat is up for grabs, and UKIP are campaigning hard. Funnily enough, Nigel Farage is doing his damnedest to link the decision with the Labour Party.
The UKIP leader said his primary concern was for the welfare of the children and their foster parents, but hit out strongly at the Labour party, despite Today host Evan Davis commenting that the decision was made by “officials” at the council rather than elected representatives.
“This is typical of the kind of bigotry I’m afraid that we get from the Labour party and from Labour-controlled councils….their attempt to close down the debate [over immigration] is just to write off anybody that wants to discuss it as being racist,” said Mr Farage.
And strangely enough, this has come out at the weekend, when the council would be in the least position to come out with a prompt response. What a coincidence!
It’s almost as if this is a media stunt intended to give UKIP a PR coup on the eve of the by-election.
[EDIT: I'm now more of the view that the proximity to the election date is coincidental rather than any deliberate timing, albeit one that's had the effect of massively throwing petrol on a flame. What does seem clear is that the various political parties are engaged in a lot of electoral jockeying on the issue.]
And with Michael Gove and Ed Miliband lining up to give Rotherham Council a verbal kicking, it’s almost as if they’re desperately trying to avoid losing crucial votes to UKIP on Thursday.
Once again, social workers and vulnerable children are being used as a political football by opportunist politicians. What a surprise.