A Scottish subscriber writes about the effect groups like Mermaids and Stonewall have had on fostering agencies.
I’m not sure where it came from, maybe a chance encounter with an old colleague planted it in my mind, but for many years I’ve wanted to be a foster carer. I’m not a parent so it might seem odd – I was a bit of a tomboy when I was young and motorbikes, playing pool, drinking pints and going to gigs was far more interesting to me than the idea of having babies.
However now I’ve had my fun and freedom. I’ve had some ups and some devastating downs and I have learned that it’s all survivable. I do voluntary work giving emotional support to those in crisis situations, many have made mistakes and are paying the price in prison. Many never had much of a chance in life to start with. Much of the time I find myself thinking “someone” should have helped and why should that someone not be me.
So a couple of years back I took a redundancy package and decided to get by for a while on savings to give me the six months or so I knew I needed for the assessment and then the additional time awaiting a placement..
I am a private person, used to my own space , so being grilled by Social Workers for hours on end hasn’t been comfortable. But that’s what I signed up for. I had nothing to hide. Or so I thought.
Because now, after well over a year, I’ve reached a dead end. I am devastated. I tick every box they’ve got and I have been measured about what I’ve said as I knew they may have been “captured” but I won’t play along with the idea of children having gendered spirits or needing drugs and surgery to align with them. The stories of Keira Bell and Sinead Watson move me to tears and I can’t be involved in letting more girls like them down.
For those beliefs, according to fostering organisations, I’m not a suitable person to be involved with young people.
After a bit of research, I chose Aberlour Children’s Charity as they seemed to have an ongoing relationship with young people after care and they were involved on a wide variety of different child support related activities. My only concern about them was that they were a Stonewall Diversity Champion and although I have previously been a great supporter of that organisation, I no longer was and it has definitely lost its way in recent years.
All went well during the ‘Skills to Foster’ course although I was told later I had missed a section, which was a failing on their part as the same night I was starting my OU Cert of H.E on Children and Families – which I have now passed with a distinction.
I had no issues raised with me over my background checks, I have put forward a range of well-respected and qualified referees and passed the practical assessments like financial status, home, access to transport, health and educational services.
I also have many of years of experience in voluntary work providing emotional and non-judgmental support to those in distress.
All was fine with Denise, my Supervising Social Worker at Aberlour until the subject of identity came up. This was several meetings into the interview process.
I explained to her I don’t hold religious views but I’m respectful of those who do. I have lived in a multicultural area of the city for many years which I enjoy. I am also respectful and supportive of people whose sexuality or identity might differ from mine.
I did however say that I was relieved at the outcome of the Keira Bell/Tavistock case which was a high-profile news story at the time as the thought of children making such major decisions about their future life was frightening to me. I have been studying the UNCRC so I was aware of how abused or traumatised children require agency, but this case had been pertinent as it illustrated a child being given agency, changing her body irrevocably and then later questioning why she was not challenged more by the adults around her.
My Social Worker said it had been a really interesting discussion which was why we overran. Despite this, she took the time to agree on dates and times for our next three sessions so we could plan ahead.
The following week I got an unexpected phone call from Denise, who was very upset and said my assessment was to be ceased. She was crying and said her own Supervisor had said something about a “red flag” and “what if we get a trans child” - - and words to the effect of “Aberlour is all about this sort of thing”.
I told Denise not to worry and I would speak to her supervisor myself to see what the issue was. I reminded Denise that I hadn’t agreed the minutes from our last meeting, and could she send them to me. Unfortunately, she hadn’t written them up. After waiting some time, she didn’t produce anything and instead sent me some words and phrases she had jotted down and I said I would write up notes myself to clarify what had been discussed. Since meeting with her co-incidentally there had been a discussion on Radio 4 with Dr David Bell and I was able to reference some of my points to his interview, to my mind I couldn’t have said anything too controversial if the same issues were being discussed on the BBC.
After a couple of days when it became obvious Aberlour were having discussions about me, I was phoned by her supervisor. She would not be specific about what the issue was she just said “my views” were a problem. As I had never met her or spoken to her, I asked her to elaborate as I didn’t think I’d expressed any firm views it was more of a philosophical discussion about child welfare I had had with my SSW.
She brought up a couple of points which I explained with relevant examples. She then went on to say that Denise was entitled to go to her to raise concerns as that was her role. I pointed out that Denise hadn’t raised any concerns. Their accounts contradicted each other.
At one point in the conversation, I said that I was studying and had done background reading as it was encouraged by the Fostering companies. She said I didn’t have to do any research as they “would tell me what to think”
I said that if what she meant by that was that I should act like an employee of a company and not someone self-employed.
If I was meant to adhere to company values what exactly were they and how had I contradicted them?
It came out in the conversation that the supervisor felt “privileged to have transitioned two children” When I questioned whether this was still legal in the current climate she said, “not children…a bit older”.
After further discussion, she decided my views didn’t fit with their organisation and I agreed as the whole experience had left me feeling happy to have no more involvement with them.
The supervisor said I shouldn’t not foster but I should “do some reflection” On what and to what end wasn’t made clear.
I subsequently requested all the information held about me from their Data Protection manager. When I received it there were notes around this discussion that I had not seen or agreed including false quotes. This had been written as an explanation for ceasing my assessment but had obviously been written after the decision had been made. The quotes did not reflect my own notes and the views I had expressed.
I complained to the Data Protection Manager that I had never seen them, hadn’t agreed them, they were not things I had said or views that I held or expressed. I told Aberlour that I wished to withdraw my permission for paperwork to be held on me, but they refused to delete it and said they would keep it for six years. They said they had added a note that I had contested them.
I approached an alternative fostering company and explained exactly what had happened. They thought it all seemed strange but put me forward for an independent social worker to assess me. After several hours talking to her she passed me with the only concern being I am not a parent and would benefit from working in some capacity with young people. This had been suggested to me before and I said I was keen to do this but covid had made it impossible.
This company put me on a six-month hiatus to get the necessary experience.
Trying a different approach, I contacted Stirling Council’s Fostering and Adoption Service and started to undergo an assessment with them so be a Supported Lodgings provider. This a scheme for young people preparing to live independently with the care provider being less intensively involved in their life.
After months of assessment with two Social Workers I was a couple of weeks from my agreed panel date when the question of identity and sexuality came up again. I explained what had happened with the first company and that I was open minded about young peoples wish to explore matters of sexuality and identity but when that came to medication and surgery, I found that very concerning. I understood that many children experienced this type of confusion, but for the majority this resolved itself with the passing of puberty and adolescence.
I felt the atmosphere changed completely and the SW started to question me about how I would feel if a young person in my care wanted to transition. I had to think about this in light of. the changes in guidelines that came about with the Keira Bell case, although I know it’s different in Scotland and what information they would have and what age they would be in terms of giving informed consent.
Supported lodgings is for an older age group anyway so I felt it was unfair as I would probably not be involved with someone vulnerable like this as someone just providing lodging and guidance. I said this seemed to me to be a specialised situation and would this not go to someone more experienced (my understanding is that there are enhanced fostering providers for this age group) – would my ability to provide supported lodgings be dependent on this?
The SSW didn’t seem to understand why I was so conflicted about this. She said she would have to speak to her supervisor.
The next visit was from her colleague who was on a secondment and had agreed to manage my case for experience. She came the following week to do a home and Health and Safety check which took about two hours and involved me agreeing to get electrical tests etc. done and furnish the rooms for the young people all of which I was happy to do.
She asked during the visit how I felt after the previous meeting as it had become more intense and covered topics that she wasn’t expecting and I told her I didn’t know what they wanted me to say to a question of “would you be fine with letting a young person do something which could impact on the rest of their life and do irreparable harm to their body” – am I meant to say “yes that’s fine I’ll cheer them on” To me it was like a “when did you stop beating your wife” question.
The file with all the notes and actions from the Health and Safety inspection meeting was never forwarded to me.
I received an automatic notification email next morning generated by the cancellation of my panel date. When I enquired, I was told the date was needed for something else and my SW texted to say she would meet with me the following week to explain what had happened. I was told the following week that the story about the double booking was false and my application to be a supported lodgings provider was being rejected because of my views on gender.
Mindful of the Forstater judgement I did say that no one was obliged to believe in gender ideology as there was no proof associated with it. I also said I didn’t feel it was right to dismiss someone for their belief that human beings can’t change sex.
She gave no impression that she was familiar with this and said that she had to educate herself about matters of gender too.
I was surprised at her not being more aware as a 16-year-old boy from the local school identifying as “trans” and taking puberty blockers died suddenly in July 2020 and this had been widely reported.
I had been told at the previous discussion that I would make a young person “feel unsafe” but when I pointed out how hurtful this was, she couldn’t remember saying it retracted and apologised. She asked me if I’d looked into experiences of transitioners and I said I had, and they said this is not something children should be doing.
In preparation for my application, I had spoken to an existing middle-aged male supported lodgings provider who had young men around 20 living with him. I asked if she thought if he was told by one of these young men that they intended to go and have themselves castrated he would be fine with that, and she said “yes” without hesitation. When I said “really…” she confirmed she hadn’t actually discussed this with him. Naturally, I asked why I was being judged on this then when an existing male provider wasn’t she said I’d brought it up.
After a lengthy discussion about where I should go from there and how distressed I was she agreed to meet up in a couple of weeks to “see how I was”
I have so far received no notes, paperwork or written explanation of any of this judgement.