Religion, faith and culture are always hotly debated topics, no more so than when it comes to fostering Muslim children. But there is a problem – the number of Muslim children in need of foster care in England outnumbers the number of Muslim foster carers.
Like all children, they have a right to be cared for in a foster home that promotes their culture and religion safely and appropriately. But when there is such an obvious gap between what is essentially a ‘supply and demand’ issue, it is not possible to place Muslim children with Muslim foster carers so what does this mean for non-Muslim foster carers?
How can non-Muslim carers support their Muslim foster children?
No matter the faith or religion of a child, their religious and cultural identity is a large part of their emotional, intellectual and physical well-being. There are the basics of the faith to follow – the eating of halal meat, for example, fasting and praying – but also the initiating or continuing of their connection with the local Muslim community.
Fostering Muslim children means being proactive as carers to ensure they remain connected with their religion and culture. Suggestions for helping this to happen include visiting local mosques, attending congregational prayers, taking part of annual festivals and enrolling the child in an after-school Islamic educational programme. In major cities and some towns, there are Muslin-led creche and education facilities, as well as schools.
These centres of faith can be the provider of fantastic support and advice too, for non-Muslim foster carers.
What other cultural issues need to be considered?
Islam is a religion that many people are suspicious of. Those less tolerant of different cultures and faith automatically link the Islamic faith with terrorism and extremism, even though the majority of Muslims are peaceful people. The sensationalism that manifests around interfaith fostering and adoption placements also makes for salacious headlines, an issue, say some, that could set fostering and adoption back many years.
But there are sensitivities that foster carers need to be aware of when it comes to fostering Muslim children;
- Gambling or any ‘game of chance’ is prohibited, especially for the money. And yet, how many of us buy a lottery ticket each week, just in case the million-pound prize is ours? While fostering Muslim children doesn’t necessarily prohibit this for non-Muslims, asking your Muslim foster child to help pick your numbers would be offensive.
- Medical care is important too, with those of the Islamic faith required to care for themselves physically, mentally and spiritually. And this means when visiting a GP or clinic, if possible, female medics should deal with a female child and a male medic for a boy, unless there is no alternative.
- Pets are not prohibited apart from the keeping of dogs and pigs. And yet, so many foster homes across the country are happy places, complete with pets, dogs included. If it cannot be avoided in a foster placement, the dog must not be allowed to enter the prayer space of the foster child, such as the bedroom. Muslim foster children can also be frightened of dogs, simply because their exposure to dogs has been limited.
- Interactions in Muslim and non-Muslim families are different. A Muslim teenager may come across as standoffish, limiting their interaction with some family members. This is a cultural issue, and one which can be misunderstood and misinterpreted.
The rewards of fostering Muslim children
Fostering brings many rewards and challenges. When it comes to interfaith fostering placements, these rewards are just as many and numerous. With small changes and adaptations, it is perfectly possible for a Muslim child to enjoy the same start in life with non-Muslim foster parents.
Could you be the person who can offer a fantastic home to a foster child?