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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

COLUMN: The case for fostering or adopting children from Palestine and other war-torn countries

Tay Jiva MBE is a Director and registered Manager of Sparks Fostering, a nationwide multi-faith fostering provider.  Tay puts a compelling case forward about adopting or fostering from war torn countries such as Palestine and puts out an appeal for Muslim families to get involved in fostering in the UK.

It’s difficult to believe or accept that more than 10,000 Palestinians have been murdered last month alone. Large numbers of children who survived the attacks have lost their parents or their entire families to the attacks. I’ve received numerous enquiries asking if British people can adopt or foster any of these orphaned children.

Parliament petitions such as Allow Palestinian Children to Enter the UK During Ongoing Conflict (9,677 signatures since 26 October 2023), and the Change.org petition to ‘Welcome Palestinian Orphans into UK Homes (70,205 signatures since 22 October 2023) demonstrate the earnest attempts of British people to provide support to the Palestinian orphans.

For people like me, who work in the fostering sector, the surge in enthusiasm for providing homes to Palestinian children raises conflicted thoughts. On the one hand, it’s commendable that there’s keen interest in supporting children who are suffering and in need of safe homes. On the other hand, there’s already a desperate shortage of foster carers for children who are currently in the UK and waiting for homes. 82,170 children were looked after by the care system in 2022 (70% of these placed into fostering homes); and 5,570 of these were unaccompanied asylum seeking children. Notably, the number of unaccompanied refugee or asylum seeking children had increased by 34% since 2021.

England’s struggles in meeting the needs of unaccompanied refugee and asylum seeking children is demonstrated by the recent High Court ruling that the Home Office and Kent County Council had acted unlawfully in housing over 5,400 unaccompanied refugee or asylum seeking children in hotels (without the protection and care of the local authority) since July 2021; and over 447 of these children had gone missing from the hotels. If England isn’t coping well with the support of unaccompanied children who are already in the country, it’s highly unlikely that more unaccompanied children would be welcomed into the country, regardless of how desperate their situation is.

The case for supporting adoption of children from Palestine may be considered to look somewhat more favourable, particularly for British Muslims interested in adoption. I’ve personally contacted several adoption providers in England who have stated that there are currently no Muslim children under age 3 waiting for adopters in England; and there are lengthy waiting lists of Muslim families wanting to adopt (some of whom have been refused the option to care for children of non-Muslim heritage and/or children of a different ethnic heritage).

One may think that these potential adopters would be in an ideal position to adopt Palestinian children; however, unlike domestic adoption, intercountry adoption is an expensive and lengthy process – estimated to cost over £20,000 (to be paid by the adopters) and it also requires several trips to the home country of the children to be adopted. For obvious reasons it wouldn’t be possible for potential adopters to make several trips to Gaza or West Bank. Even if there were any organisations who would wish to facilitate adoption services from Gaza, it would be impossible to put the appropriate safeguarding processes in place at this time to protect children from child trafficking and/or from being separated from family members who may be missing but still alive. It’s illegal to adopt children from countries where these processes aren’t in place, and I envisage that it would take several years of peace and negotiations to put these processes in place.  We must also consider whether the Palestinian people would welcome the systematic removal of children from their country.

So how do we move forward? There are established large organisations (such as the Refugee Council) who are campaigning for improved asylum processes, which would benefit refugee-seeking Palestinians; their campaign for a fair and humane asylum system has accrued 45,218 votes and welcomes further support.

Those with a spare bedroom and a drive to support vulnerable children should consider fostering the children who are already in the UK and waiting for a home to join. There is a particular need for foster carers for sibling groups, older children (over age 5), children with additional needs and unaccompanied asylum seeking children. The majority of unaccompanied children are teenage boys (between the ages of 14 and 17) from Sudan, Iran, Eritrea, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Iraq, Albania, Ethiopia, and Syria (Refugee Council) – these children have suffered the horrors of war and need the support of compassionate families.

The majority of unaccompanied children are Muslim; however, there aren’t enough Muslim fostering homes. Based on freedom of information research, it’s estimated that approximately 1,500 Muslim children are cared for in non-Muslim foster homes every year due to the shortage of Muslim fostering homes.

Sehar Hamdani, a Muslim care experienced law graduate who lived in non-Muslim fostering homes from age 2 to adulthood, is working with mosques throughout the country to recruit Muslim foster carers and adopters as part of the ‘Muslim homes for children in care campaign. Sehar commented that “we know that there’s an excess of Muslim adoptive applicants for children age 3 and under, and that Muslims are forerunners in charitable donations (Pew Research), so it follows that if appropriately mobilised, Muslims can be at the forefront of providing more than enough fostering and adoptive homes for children of any age, faith or identity’.

The project is supported by my agency, Sparks Fostering, and I invite readers to sign the petition for Parliament to ‘Make it mandatory for children’s social care to record the religion of children’ so that the faith needs of children in care can be monitored and supported alongside the other identity needs of the children – this data would be instrumental in ensuring that there’s appropriate recruitment activity and representation of different faith groups.

Whatever your identity, if you have a spare bedroom and a drive to improve the lives of vulnerable children (or if you can refer someone else who does), contact your local adoption or fostering service and learn more about what the process entails.


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