The way subjects are reported; and that includes foster care, can have serious, damaging and far reaching effects.
We now live in an era of fake news. Great attention has been paid to the supposed influence of fake news on the U.S. election result. The problem is that there doesn’t even have to be a news story: the idea is enough to spread confusion amongst the credulous. A poll found that 73% of Trump voters believed that the billionaire financier George Soros, was involved in disrupting the candidate’s rallies, by paying protesters. This proved to be fake news, which the president- elect later repeated himself. The problem that we face, is that news used to be to inform and generate debate. Now, as never before, news has become a commodity. In the digital age, news attracts revenue: this means that being first with a story; which was always the ambition of every self respecting journalist, has now morphed into something very different. News has a monetary value and the more it can be stretched, the longer it continues to generate revenue. It has a kind of ‘elasticity’ that perfectly suits our digitally driven age. News can be uploaded in an instant from anywhere in the world: the customary checks and balances of the past are now exactly that – things of the past.
Does all this matter – and in any case can we do much about it? Probably not. The rough and tumble of elections is easy meat for those with an agenda of manipulating the news. Their success is likely to be extremely short lived. Fake News is something that cuts both ways: sensationalism first attracts, but it can turn quickly into cynicism and mistrust, with people no longer believing anything they are told. The result, inevitably, will be that people will no longer engage with the news. You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time. Well, we have now become perilously close to disproving this famous saying of Abraham Lincoln. If the point is reached where all the people are routinely fooled all of the time, once this is discovered, we will have entered new epoch – the age of disbelief. This may not happen, but it is not beyond the bounds of possibility. There should be stiff penalties for those manufacturing fake news. Politicians should realise that they, and ultimately all of us, will be utterly impoverished by living in a society where no one and nothing is believed. It could be argued that under such conditions, we could not be said to be living in a society at all. Why? Because truth binds society. Establishing the truth is not always easy, but not making the attempt in favour of creating fake news is toxic. There is another clear and present danger and that is; if not exactly faking news but distorting it. This can have almost as corrosive an effect on society and cause real and lasting damage. We have a prime example of this in the hysterical and exaggerated reporting surrounding the recent foster care placement of a young white Christian girl with Muslim foster carers. Lest anyone think this claim is itself exaggerated, consider the words of Sir Martin Narey, the chief of the review the government has set up into foster care provision. About this case, Sir Martin said “such ‘misleading’ reports could prove disastrous if they stop potential foster carers coming forward”. And he should know as the man heading up the review. He emphasised that “misleading” claims about a white Christian child looked after by mixed-race Muslim foster parents could well deter people from ethnic minorities from considering becoming foster carers. He stated that such a case could “reverse a decade and a half of progress”.
That is worth restating: sensationalist and distorted reporting could well have reversed a decade and a half of progress. And this is hardly the time to have pulled off such an appalling result, as the country currently lacks over 7,000 foster families. Such an action could; and probably has, compromised years of work to attract people into fostering by charities, agencies and other organisations who have the interests of vulnerable children at heart. The initial story had claimed that the young girl was banned from eating spaghetti carbonara as it contained pork. Then a cross she wore round her neck was confiscated. It was also claimed the foster carer encouraged her to learn Arabic. The girl was then, apparently, placed with a second carer who was said to wear a burqa in public. These incendiary claims were later dismissed as a result of the council’s own internal inquiries. The ‘Observer’ discovered that the girl was not denied certain types of food on religious grounds and, whilst a long necklace was removed from her, this was because her foster carer felt it posed a safety risk. The ‘Times’ journalist who broke the story said on BBC’s Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme said the claims were based on a report made by a council employee. The mayor of Tower Hamlets stated – “The more sensationalist stories about confiscating bacon or about removing crucifixes were, from all of our investigations, not based in fact.” He then added that a court-appointed guardian had made the judgement that the “child seemed to be in a settled and happy position”.
Hopefully the journalist concerned will reflect upon the consequences of slipshod reporting. Who after all, is likely to pay the price for this kind of sensationalist reporting – vulnerable children if there are no longer enough foster carers to go around. Since 2013 the number of foster carers in England has decreased. A dubious pre-occupation with race and religion is highly likely to be detrimental to children in care through limiting their options for placements. Sir Martin Narey also said –
“the case could result in “professionals reverting to more cautious race and religious-based decisions when placing children”. This, he claimed, “would turn the clock back 15 years to when Department for Education guidance discouraged what were called “trans-racial placements”.
Sir Martin felt that considerable progress had been made in recent years as far as getting practitioners to adopt a more flexible approach to cross racial/religious placements. His view was that intuition suggested a racial or ethnic match would be best, but the research suggests this is not as important as people think. There was a large body of evidence that suggested that “the exposure of children to cross-cultural or trans-racial placements did not result in negative outcomes.”
All this goes to show that there is a considerable amount of misinformation and ignorance. It is to be hoped that certain journalists and their editors will be suitably chastened. The press is fond of excusing some of their journalistic excesses citing ‘the public interest’, but it is surely right that their activities be subject also to the test of the public interest – and impacting detrimentally on the supply of foster carers definitely does not conform to this. Journalism, if it is anything, should be about the gathering of facts and then marshalling judgement with the goal of best ascertaining what is the truth of any given situation. Here are a few facts that should temper certain quarters of the press and their proclivity to sensationalise in the interest of reputation and sales: The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS), has only very recently released figures that reveal the numbers of children now being taken into care in this country have risen every year since the financial crash of 2008. This will have an inevitable effect on foster care provision and in a recent survey, 85% of those canvassed expressed little or no interest in fostering. In a situation of a diminishing supply of an essential resource, at a time when demand for it is rising sharply, it ill behoves any self respecting news organisation to exacerbate a parlous situation through poor practice. Especially, as the most vulnerable in our society will pick up the tab.
The current figures relating to foster care provision for England in 2017: currently, there are 44,625 foster families caring for children and young people in England. The foster care charity, The Fostering Network, is estimating that the need will be to recruit a further 5,900 foster families in the next twelve months.
Foster carers! More news stories to catch up on
Foster carers make a real difference in Cumbria
October 31st, 2017
The pivotal role that foster carers play in helping care leavers to achieve the best outcomes is now being focused on during National Care Leavers’ Week – which finishes this Friday. Cumbria County Council, is just one authority participating and it has responsibility for two hundred and seventy five care leavers aged between sixteen and twenty five. They are provided with support and help as they get ready to make the move to independent living (more) http://bit.ly/2e8PrIK
A Rainbow ‘Reward’ on offer
At Rainbow we want to hear from people interested in becoming foster carers. We are prepared to pay a bonus of £500 if you are an existing foster carer and refer someone to us. Once your referral has accepted their first placement, we will pay the bonus. And if you are considering fostering for the first time, we would be delighted to guide you. So whatever your background, religious faith, status or personal situation, you will be welcomed into our foster care team. There are many benefits if you foster with Rainbow: these include –
Happy news at the end of this foster care Rainbow…just one last birthday for the month to celebrate in the team!