At The Fostering Network we understand the importance of stability for fostered children and young people and the detrimental impact of making the wrong match between a foster family and child. We also know how important cultural and religious support is as part of making the right match first time. This can include either matching within a child's own faith or with a foster family with the knowledge and openness to encourage them to explore their culture and faith fully.
The Fostering Network embarked on a national programme, funded by Better Community Business Network (BCBN) and in partnership with Mercy Mission UK, which aimed to highlight areas of challenge in the current system and encourage greater emphasis on elements of faith and identity when placing a Muslim child with a foster family.
The objectives of the Muslim Fostering Project:
- identify the number of Muslim children being fostered at any one time;
- build a picture of the number of Muslim children being placed with non-Muslim foster carers, and the reasons behind these decisions;
- build a picture of the experiences of Muslim foster carers and those who enquire but do not proceed to become foster carers;
- explore the recruitment and retention of Muslim foster carers, highlighting barriers and identifying good practice; and
- review existing resources, training and support available for non-Muslim foster families who foster Muslim children to identify if fit for purpose.
What we did:
- A full literature review of existing research into fostering within the Muslim community.
- Carried out a focus group with 20 Muslim foster carers and service staff from the London Borough of Tower Hamlets and conducted phone interviews with another 22 foster carers from across England.
- Analysis of recruitment marketing materials and other approaches being used to attract Muslims to fostering to assess suitability and impact.
- Identified case information which has underpinned matching decisions to assess the criteria used and explore whether identity and faith are fully explore.
- Identified cases where Muslim children have been placed with non-Muslim foster carers, the reasons for doing so and the support infrastructure, including the information provided to foster carers about the child prior to placement.
- We had hoped to do some work with Muslim enquirers to foster who did not proceed beyond enquiry, but as services did not record faith on enquiry, it was not possible to conduct this research.
What we found:
One of the primary tasks undertaken within the project was to conduct a literature review on what information already existed on the experience of Muslim children in foster care and Muslim foster carers, identifying the following key themes:
- Understanding the experience of Muslim looked after children
There is surprisingly limited literature detailing the experience of Muslim children in foster care in England, particularly from the perspective of the children themselves. This is not an issue linked specifically to Islam, with little research generally undertaken on the importance of faith for looked after children, but with significant research detailing the particular challenges around Islamophobia and isolation experienced by the British Muslim community. The specific experience of Muslim looked after children would be of benefit.
- Understanding the outcomes for Muslim children in foster care in England
Linked to the area above, more data on the outcomes specifically of Muslim children in foster care in England, compared to non-Muslim peers would be of interest in assessing whether the system helps these children to negotiate the additional challenges identified around managing multiple identities and exploring their faith.
- Supporting non-Muslim foster carers who care for Muslim children and young people
While the existing data illustrates the importance of providing Muslim young people with the environment in which to explore and observe their faith, the level of support and targeted training for non-Muslim carers in this area is mixed. Accepting that not all children will be placed with foster carers from their own faith and culture, specific evaluation of existing training and support initiatives would be helpful to identify the best way to support foster carers in this area and help to better understand the impact of cross-cultural and cross faith or religious placement.
- Rejecting or rebelling against a culture or identity
Existing literature and the analysis provided here focus on children and young people for whom their identity and culture is clear and is something they wish to continue to develop.
The challenges of supporting a looked after young person who is rebelling against their culture or challenging their identity are complex, particularly for foster carers who share their faith. Identifying ways of supporting families to work through these challenges would be beneficial.
Our work with fostering services
We partnered with five fostering services in England to undertake local level research to identify local practice on how the Muslim faith is incorporated into the matching process and some of the challenges service faith when trying to recruit Muslim foster carers.
Working with Bristol City Council, Central Bedfordshire Council, Olive Branch Fostering, Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council and Surrey County Council, we have explored some of the perceived barriers as to why the Muslim community may not come forward to foster, the challenges faced on initial enquiry, pre-approval training and assessment. We also assessed the training and support provided and the opportunities for where this can be improved.
Practice Learning Day
In March 2018 we held a Practice Learning Day to discuss our initial findings with social work and foster carer recruitment professionals from across the country. Ninety delegates attended the day, representing local authority fostering services and independent fostering providers, as well as colleagues from the Department for Education and project partners, Mercy Mission UK.
The day was an opportunity to share some of the key themes identified and substantiate the findings, with many services also identifying the challenges faced.
The Muslim Fostering Project has provided an opportunity to undertake a focused piece of research on practice regarding fostering in the Muslim community in England. It has highlighed the challenges fostering services face in recruiting Muslim foster carers, the degree that faith is considered in the matching process and the critical lack of data to inform outcomes for Muslim children and young people in foster care.
A report of the findings, alongside the literature review, will be shared in summer 2018.