Thirteen months ago a young boy was removed from his birth parents' care and made available for adoption because Judge Simon Wood determined that the child had been "emotionally abused" and received "seriously sub-standard parenting".
Cases like these are sadly all too common, with around 70 per cent of children in care having experienced neglect or abuse. But this case became newsworthy because yesterday the same judge denied the request of the boy's family – who are thought to be Muslim, though the judgment does not explicitly say this – to prevent their son from being adopted by a Christian couple.
The case has caused controversy, as religion has been one of the very few factors that a birth family can specify when it comes to the adoption of their removed children. But these are difficult times for the adoption system in the UK. Thousands of children are waiting – and many waiting far too long – for a 'forever family'.
In the light of this, the Government has been working hard to speed up the process and so changes have been taking place regarding the criteria for prospective adopters. For example, there are no age restrictions on who can adopt in the UK, single people can adopt and an exact racial match between children and their adoptive parents is no longer an essential requirement. This relaxing of factors that historically may have stopped an adoption from taking place is, in my opinion, good news for the children waiting in care.
Having said that, matching a child with an adoptive family is necessarily a rigorous and complex process. During an in-depth assessment process prospective adopters are evaluated on their appropriateness to adopt. The assessment is based on their life circumstances, experiences, relationship history and temperament as well as their willingness to make adjustments to put the needs of an adopted child or children first.
Once they are being considered for a specific child or children, the social workers attempt to balance lots of factors: do the adopters have the experience and resilience to be able to cope with the needs presented? Does the family have support in place? Does the family have other children/pets/outdoor space/commitments that would benefit or risk the placement? Do the adopters have an understanding of the culture the adopted child is from?
Among these and other considerations when matching a child come the religious convictions of the potential adopters.
The boy in the case heard yesterday is now over two years old, from an ethnic minority group, and he seems to have experienced neglect or abuse. Across the UK it usually proves very difficult to place children from these backgrounds. Many adopters are looking for healthy baby girls and so there are limited numbers of adopters who would even consider the very opposite – an older boy with emotional scars. So knowing the pool of adopters for these kinds of children is extremely small puts into perspective Judge Wood's statement that it isn't possible to get a "perfect" match, and that religion can't "trump" other factors.
Judge Wood seems to be following through the implications of the Government's 2014 draft statutory guidance on adoption which states: "Where a child is very young, particularly when still in infancy, it is important not to make assumptions about religion, culture or language and these should not be imposed on a very young child. A sense of one's culture is developed over time and it should not be assumed that an infant possesses a cultural, linguistic or religious background."
From my own family's experience as foster carers who are also Christians, we have been asked on two separate occasions to take in Muslim boys because there were no Muslim carers available. It seemed that the next best thing to finding a religious match, as far as social workers were concerned, was to put the boys in a family who valued faith. There are certain limits that were understood here by all parties – we agreed to prepare Halal meat and avoid pork, but we did not feel qualified or able to teach them the Koran. We might, with permission, have taken them to church rather than a mosque, but we still modelled the importance of being part of a religious community where faith affects daily life.
Of course, I would still advocate trying very hard to match children ethnically, culturally and religiously wherever possible, but at the end of the day a loving family is better than no family at all. Sadly, there seems to be a lack of Muslim families willing to foster and adopt. This may be because some Muslims believe Islam prohibits adoption. Others argue this is a misinterpretation, but nevertheless this is still a widespread perception that prevents some Muslim families coming forward to adopt. So it is inevitable that judges are faced with a dilemma: leave Muslim children waiting indefinitely for a religious match, or place them in loving non-Muslim homes.
While it is relatively easy as Christians to commend the judge for his decision, I wonder how we would feel if things were the other way around? If perhaps children removed from a Christian family connected with our church were approved for adoption into a Muslim family? I can relate to the emotional conflict here as we have had children who have lived as part of our own family for as long as 13 months subsequently move back or move on to Muslim families, and many others to atheist families. Nevertheless I believe that by the common grace of God, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, atheists all have the ability to make great adoptive parents.
Could you offer your home to a two-year-old boy with a history of neglect and abuse, possibly even one with a different religious, ethnic or language background from your own? Do you know somebody who could? If you feel strongly about this, perhaps you could become involved in our campaign to encourage more Christians to step forward and offer themselves as potential adopters for some of the 6,000 children waiting in care for families.
There is also a deficit of 9,000 foster parents that we are challenging the Church in the UK to help find. We believe that Christians have a vital role to play in finding a home for every child that needs one in the UK and the Church has a vital role to play in offering friendship and support to foster and adoptive carers.
Dr Krish Kandiah is the founder and director of Home for Good.