Fostering experts are afraid that the case of three children being removed from a Rotherham couple because of their support for the UK Independence Party will lead to a spread of misinformation about fostering, political views and ethnicity.
Kevin Williams, chief executive of TACT and a former social worker, said stories like the Ukip one in Rotherham were deeply destructive, and could put many people off considering becoming foster parents.
Rotherham Borough Council removed three "not indigenous white British" children from the couple because they were concerned about the parents' views on immigration - linked to their membership of Nigel Farage's party.
Social workers apparently visited the couple unexpectedly, claiming to have been 'tipped-off' that the two had joined Ukip, a decision Farage called "a bloody outrage".
Foster parents can be assessed on the basis of their religion and ethnicity - but not their political views
Williams told The Huffington Post UK: "It gives a terrible impression that social workers are trying their hardest to snatch children away or ban them from fostering children.
"Social workers aren't looking for reasons to stop people being foster parents, in fact, it's ideal to have a range of people from all different ethnicities and backgrounds.
Those who were racists, extremists or white nationalists could be discounted, he said.
"Political views or other views may well be taken into account - we do look at the values of people who want to be foster parents, they might have extreme views on race, on religion, or on homosexuality.
"Ultimately we want a range of people who have views you would expect across the middle of society, people with rounded views, not extreme ones."
He added: "You also get myths about smokers and obese people being turned down, and there is a health assessment because it's important people can cope with very, very challenging children and young people.
"And sometimes if the foster child is a baby, it may not be appropriate for a foster parent to smoke, but these myths of people being turned down for one cigar at Christmas can't be true."
He added: "The assessments are intrusive and detailed. The children they will be looking after will often have been abused or abandoned, and they are looking after someone else's child, very different from looking after your own."
The children at the centre of the row, a baby girl, a boy and an older girl, are believed to be migrants from the European Union.
But fostering experts have denied that political parties are taken into account in order to place children with foster parents, and insist it is a one-off incident of "bad practice."
A spokesman for the Fostering Network told The Huffington Post UK that he did not believe it to be a widespread issue, because no other families had come to them to report similar incidents.
Children who are fostered often come from very challenging backgrounds
Chief executive of the Fostering Network, Robert Tapsfield, said in a statement to The Huffington Post UK: “It is best practice that, unless there is an immediate and significant risk of harm to the child, no fostering placement should be ended prematurely before a review is held and the foster carer, child and child’s parents should be consulted.
“We will learn from the inquiry that Rotherham are conducting whether this happened in this situation, but it appears at this stage that it did not. However, we need to keep this in perspective.
"There is no evidence to suggest that foster carers are or should be asked about affiliation to mainstream political parties."
But the scandal has been a catalyst for ministers to look at changing the law to extend new rules for adoption to fostering, to make sure race, ethnicity and cultural background do not affect placements, according to the Times.
Michael Gove, Education Secretary, has demanded his own investigation be carried out, in addition to Rotherham Council's.
Ed Miliband called for an urgent investigation into the case, saying in a statement: "Being a member of Ukip should not be a bar to adopting or fostering children. We need loving homes for children across the country. That can come in different forms, it's not about what political party you are a member of."
But Tapsfield expressed a deep concern that the story would be used as a way to ignore ethnicity when placing a child.
He said: “We are concerned that this story is being used to suggest consideration of a child’s ethnicity is not important… a new fostering placement [must] meet the child’s health and educational needs, will enable the child to keep in contact with important family members and will help the child develop their sense of identity, of which race and ethnicity are a part.
"It would be entirely wrong to suggest that ethnicity is not important."
WHAT IS TAKEN INTO ACCOUNT?
- There is no legal minimum age to become a foster carer (although some Fostering services have their own policy such as over 21)
- There is also no official upper age limit on being a foster carer
- Single people can foster as well as married or cohabiting couples
- There are many gay and lesbian foster carers
- Foster carers do not need to own their own home
- People don’t have to be parents to foster
- People with minor criminal offences can still foster - but they can't have been involved in any crime to do with children or sex offences
- Your pets are assessed when you become a foster parent
- You don't have to be a British citizen
- A medical report is always required of foster parents - and those with long term health conditions can be discouraged
- You must speak English to a decent standard
- You have to be able to meet a child's religious needs - and could be ask to consider how you would cope talking to children on subjects like homosexuality, if your religion forbids it
- Smokers can be banned from fostering children under five years old or those with certain health conditions by different fostering services - or given help to quit smoking
Suggested For You
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements.Learn more