Saturday, 1 December 2012

Foster Parents: What Politicians 'Say' They Think, And What They Actually 'Do' Think

Just recently Rotherham Council took away three foster children from parents who belonged to UKIP*.  In most cases, the politicians’ reaction (including those on Thursday’s edition of Question Time) has been to overwhelmingly repudiate the view that political affiliations should have any bearing on parents’ ability to foster children.  "Political opinions should not affect a couple's ability to foster children" we hear them assert. 

The problem with this view is that almost no one believes it is true, which makes it a rather strange widespread assertion from our political representatives.  The first mistake being made is that the extent to which political views or affiliations should affect people's ability to foster is not a binary consideration, it is a spectrum - rather like whether a room is thought to be hot or cold is a spectrum, not a binary 'hot' or 'cold' fact.  Saying "Political opinions should not affect a couple's ability to foster children" is a bit like saying "There is no such thing as a hot room".  There are many degrees of temperature increase that would constitute the view that a room is hot - and similarly there are many degrees of political extremism a couple could exhibit that would constitute the widespread view that they should not be able to foster children. 

Let's take an extreme hypothetical; suppose a couple starts a political party called the 'Take them home and shoot them’ party, which has a manifesto urging all foreigners to be taken to their own places of provenance and shot.  Imagine after a year their party has a few thousand members, and that that same couple decides they want to foster children - do you imagine that any of us would support the decision of the Children & Young People Services to grant them a fostering licence?  Of course we wouldn't.

Taking a less extreme case, suppose everyone in the UK had to decide on a couple to foster two children, and with no more information they had to choose between voting for a Labour voting couple from Bradford and a BNP voting couple from Bradford, we feel sure that most people would choose the Labour voting couple from Bradford.  So, evidently, it is not true that political affiliations have no bearing on feelings or wishes.

I think a good indicator of how people really feel is to ask what they would do if it was their own child up for being fostered.  The answer is, not many politicians would want their children fostered by UKIP members, even fewer by BNP members, and they would run a mile from couples in the 'Take them home and shoot them' party.

So let's have it right - almost nobody believes that political opinions are not important in deciding who makes good foster parents - but almost everyone wants political opinions to be precluded from the screening process.  The reality is, political opinions are relevant and important, because the political views people have are very often consistent with the kind of people they are, just as the prior criminal convictions of a man on trial in court are relevant and important when considering the probability of whether he is innocent or guilty, because past convictions are very often consistent with the kind of criminal character in the dock.**  The fact of the matter is a member of the BNP is more likely to make a bad parent than someone of a centrist view, because (save for the odd few exceptions perhaps) a BNP member must have degrees of impressionability, extremism, stupidity, intolerance, and a lack of worldliness and empathy that make his parenting skills inimical to the ideal. 

Of course, this is only a matter of probability - a Labour or Conservative member may make a bad parent for lots of similar (or different) reasons - but almost everything is a matter of probability somewhere - and the fact is, politicians are far more bothered about political affiliations than they care to admit. 

* For those outside Britain, UKIP is a nationalistic United Kingdom Independence Party

** For that reason alone it is completely absurd that the jury does not have access to this information.  To see what I mean, think of any other field or institution in which results are important but crucial data is withheld from the field or institute members - you won't find one.  Imagine trying to do science that way!!