How Racism in the Foster Care System is Depriving Kids of Support


Annie Shafi
How Racism in the Foster Care System is Depriving Kids of Support

Our CEO Shadim Hussain published an insightful piece on racism in the foster care system depriving children of the support they need.

You can access the original article on The Independent at or have a read of it below:

Racism in the foster care system is depriving kids of support – and I’ve seen it up close

I have advised the government for three years on fostering and adoption. In that time, I have seen repeated accusations of “institutional racism” in the sector, driven not only by a few high profile cases of discrimination and bias, but by recognition amongst official bodies that BAME foster children are thrown into a system where the odds are tragically stacked against them. Statistics show that over 2,500 children are waiting to be adopted with 40 per cent spending more than 18 months on the list and black children waiting the longest to be placed.

These children, who are some of the most vulnerable people in our society, are put into the foster care system as a last resort. Many are already victims of neglect and abuse and often carry the scars – psychological and sometimes physical – of their past.

This makes receiving care from individuals who understand and respect their culture, beliefs and identity all the more necessary. Going without can make a bad situation worse, increasing the cost to society, with scarred children sometimes becoming alienated youths and angry adults.

The trauma caused by a child’s foster family not understanding his or her background cannot be overstated: I have spoken to children who have, for example, been given diets and routines that are in conflict with their upbringing, leaving them deeply conflicted and in many cases, feeling unworthy of attention, care and love.

The root cause of this is simple enough: BAME foster carers are in short supply (24 per cent of children in care are BAME vs 13 per cent of foster carers)Some non-exhaustive studies have shown that in two out of three English councils there is a lack of BAME care. This means that all too often, a BAME child is raised by white foster parents who are understandably keen for them to “be a part of the family” – even if certain household customs are contrary to their upbringing or background. With the right support, those parents can provide everything their foster child needs. Without it, they are left navigating a sometimes cavernous cultural divide.

It is essential that the fostering system becomes more inclusive and easy to navigate for foster parents from a range of backgrounds. Last year, Sandeep and Reena Mander, a couple from Maidenhead, won a “race discrimination” case against their local council after being told they couldn’t adopt a white child because of their “cultural heritage”. Though they successfully challenged the decision, their ordeal speaks to widespread issues in adoption and foster care.

Anecdotally, I know that the system is struggling to navigate the difficult conversations around how a foster family’s background in terms of class, ethnicity and religion intersects not only with a child, but with the institutions that make up fostering services.

All too often, commentary on the sector works on the premise that it is not OK for a foster family to care for a child who is of a different background to them. Although I can understand the concerns around this, it is simply not true. There is no conspiracy behind matching white children with BAME foster families, just as there isn’t one in opposite circumstances. But there is a complex and (necessarily) bureaucratic system aiming to achieve the best for the children in its care. It is impossible for unlimited foster families from each ethnic and religious niche to be recruited and waiting for a child who is an “exact match”.

What we need is mutual understanding and accommodation, rather than identical backgrounds and beliefs. In an ideal world, there would be identical heritage between foster families and children, a Muslim child being cared for by Muslims, for example. Similarly, there would be no children in need of foster care in the first place.

This is a system that is difficult for many potential foster parents to navigate, especially if they are working class, BAME or religious. Nationally, only 3 per cent of people of any background who consider becoming foster parents are approved. My experience shows me that it is even lower for those from a minority background. Sometimes the cause may be racism or bias – including the unconscious kind.

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