For the past few weeks, headlines in the United Kingdom have been full of outrage over Christian foster children being placed with Muslim families, and vice versa.
It began in August when The Times of London ran a sensational article about a Muslim family fostering a 5-year-old Christian girl. According to the article, they deprived her of bacon, suggested she learn Arabic, and took away her crucifix necklace.
The Times reported that several of the girl’s caretakers wore a niqab or burka, inferring that “generally indicates adherence to a conservative, Salafi-influenced interpretation of Islam that is often contemptuous of liberal Western values.” The reporter blamed government social services for placing the child without considering her religion.
The story was investigated by a senior social worker and almost entirely debunked: no food had been rejected for religious reasons; English was spoken in the home; and the crucifix was so large and valuable that the foster parents had returned it to the child’s grandmother for safekeeping. The social worker concluded the girl received “warm and appropriate care” while she waited for her grandmother—who also happens to be Muslim—to gain approval to take custody of her.
But the damage was already done. The Daily Mail tabloid followed up with a story detailing the reactive anger of members of Parliament, and The Sun tabloid reported that at least 101 Christian children have been placed with Muslim foster families, while 394 Muslim children have been placed with Christian foster families.
Right-wing extremist groups such as Britain First and the English Defence League jumped on the stories in order to stir up racial and religious hatred. Meanwhile, many Christians have expressed outrage at the apparent lack of attention to religious needs when placing children in foster care.
These stories and their reactions raise some important questions—not just for social workers, but for all of us.
How can Christians do this for Muslim children in their care or vice versa? This is the key question that needs to be asked in light of the fact that we are caring for one another’s children at the most vulnerable time in their lives.
In addition, we must look beyond the question of inappropriate placements to ask about the problem of insufficient places for placements.
We must ask where the church is in all of this. It is surely a stain on the church’s reputation that there are not enough foster caregivers or adoptive parents in our nation. The church has been given very clear instructions on what appropriate worship to God looks like. According to Isaiah 1:15-17, James 1:27, and Matthew 25:31-46, caring for the vulnerable is an essential part of Christian worship – Online Media.