Christian girl placed with Muslim foster carer is returned to grandmother after court ruling

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The Christian girl reportedly forced to live with a Muslim foster carer was last night returned to her grandmother's home following a hearing at a family court and a national outcry.

The Times, which broke the story on Monday, reported today that the five-year-old had been removed from two Muslim households where she had been sent against the wishes of her family.

But after claims that the girl was confused by Arabic speaking in her foster care, the council at the heart of the row has hit out at 'errors' in the reporting of the case, claiming instead that the foster family were mixed-race English speakers.

Nonetheless, the girl was taken to her grandmother's house yesterday after a judge urged councils to seek 'culturally matched placements' for vulnerable children.

Judge Khatun Sapnara, who is a Muslim, told the council it was in the girl's best interests to live with a family member who could meet her needs 'in terms of ethnicity, culture and religion,' according to The Times.

The judge also ordered the Tower Hamlets council in East London to conduct an urgent investigation, praising The Times for acting responsibly in raising 'very concerning' matters of 'legitimate public interest'.

Friends of the girl's family told The Times that they were hugely relieved by the decision to remove her from placements where everything was 'foreign and unfamiliar' into surroundings where she would feel 'much more at home'. The girl reportedly had a necklace with a crucifix removed from her while in care.

During yesterday's hearing at the East London Family Court, security staff reportedly tried to remove a journalist, but Judge Sapnara ruled that the reporter be allowed to stay, according to the Daily Mail.

Officials had previously opposed plans by the girl's parents to place her into the temporary care of her grandmother.

Simon Calvert, of the Christian Institute, said that councils usually tried to ensure that children were placed with carers who would respect their beliefs. 'Clearly something has gone wrong in this case,' he added.

'We can't have a situation where a local authority respects all religious backgrounds except Christianity. In my experience, Christian foster carers do all they can to respect the religious and cultural heritage of children placed in their care.'

Meanwhile, the Guardian today reported that Tower Hamlets council said the placement was a temporary measure and hit out at what it said were errors in the reporting of the highly sensitive fostering case.

It referred to the original report claiming that the child had been sobbing and begging not to be returned to one foster carer because 'they don't speak English'.

A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets council said: 'While we cannot go into details of a case that would identify a child in foster care, there are inaccuracies in the reporting of it. For example, the child is in fact fostered by an English-speaking family of mixed race in this temporary placement. We would like to give more details but we are legally restricted to do so.'

The spokesperson added: 'We have always been working towards the child being looked after by a family member and we continue to do so.'

MPs have expressed concern over the case, including Robert Halfon, the Conservative chairman of the Commons education committee, who said that it would be equally worrying if a Muslim child who did not speak English were placed with a Christian foster carer in a home where the child's language was not spoken.

The Children's Commissioner for England, Anne Longfield said: 'I have spoken to Tower Hamlets council and raised a number of concerns, and have asked about the wishes of the little girl. I have asked the council to ensure that this child has the support of an independent advocate so that her views are heard at the heart of this process.'

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said that the Department for Education was conducting a 'stocktake' of national fostering. She added: 'Councils have to bear in mind the ethnicity and religion of children when they are placing them in care, but they approach that on a case-by-case basis, which is right.'