Tower Hamlets mayor defends placing Christian girl with Muslim foster carers

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The mayor of Tower Hamlets Council has defended the authority’s decision to place a five-year-old girl from an English-speaking Christian family with mixed-race Muslim foster parents.

John Biggs said the authority had “looked very carefully at the appropriate matching” and found a family who could look after the interests of the child at a “very traumatic time”.

He added that the selection of foster parents was “not a random exercise”.

The girl’s case hit the headlines following reports that she had been placed with a Muslim family and encouraged to learn Arabic.

A family court judge subsequently decided the youngster should move from a foster placement to her grandmother’s home temporarily pending further analysis of evidence.

Mr Biggs defended his east London council’s handling of the case: “The selection of foster parents is not a random exercise. We wouldn’t pick foster parents who weren’t able to communicate with the child.”

On BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he was challenged about the use of Arabic in the foster parents’ home.

“I don’t know for a fact the absolute detail and we are still delving into it. But my understanding is that, aside from anything else, the court appoints an independent person who checks into the custody and welfare of the child, and they verified that the child seemed to be in a settled and happy position.”

Asked about the foster mother wearing a niqab, Mr Biggs said: “I represent a multiracial, multicultural, multifaith borough and we get on pretty well together. I wouldn’t have a problem with a child being fostered by someone who comes from a different faith but is sensitive to and responds to that child, who communicates with them, who shows their face to that child as well.

“I think that those are all important factors and I am confident that we looked very carefully at the appropriate matching and that we found a family who would look after the interests of this child at a very traumatic time.”

He added: “The child came from a Muslim heritage, albeit that her mother says she came from a white Christian heritage.”

Mr Biggs said the “more sensationalist stories” about the child being stopped from eating bacon or having a crucifix necklace removed were “from all of our investigations, not based in fact”.

In an eight-page order released earlier this week, Judge Khatun Sapnara said the case had a complex history and background.

The girl’s mother said her family had a Christian heritage but the judge said there was evidence that the mother’s parents had a Muslim background.

The judge said the little girl was placed with foster carers on an emergency basis in March as a result of police exercising powers of protection.

She said there had been “no culturally matched foster placement” available at the time.

The girl’s mother had “raised some concerns” about the “appropriateness” of the placement but had “at no stage” applied for a change of foster carer, the judge said.

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