07/11/07 Smokers Banned From Fostering

On Wednesday 5th November the BBC featured an article explaining that Redbridge council – a north east London borough – have passed a ban which prohibits smokers from becoming foster parents.[1]

Apparently the ban was passed with a unanimous vote from councillors, stating the council wants to protect children from “the damaging effects of passive and second-hand smoke”, and cabinet member for children, Tory councillor, Michael Stark, said: “We know this is a difficult issue because some people will feel it is an intrusion on personal freedoms, but we also know that smoking increases the risk of serious illness in childhood.” The BBC stated in their article “The council said the new policy was the result of scientific evidence which showed second-hand smoke to be a cause of lung cancer and childhood respiratory disease.It said young children were particularly susceptible to the effects of second-hand smoke because their lungs and airways are small and their immune systems immature. ”  Curiously, neither the BBC nor the council offered any references or names of such study.

Evidently none of the councillors have read the largest ever study on second hand smoke, conducted by the WHO.  The study ran for ten years covering seven countries and the results were eagerly awaited from anti-smoking organisations – it was considered the grandaddy of all passive smoking studies, and it was conducted by a respected anti-smoking body.  However, the results that emerged were not the ones that were expected.  The only statistically significant finding was that children living with smoking parents were 22% less likely to develop lung cancer as adults. [2]

The results of that study actually mean that not only is banning smokers from fostering not necessary, but that passive smoke apparently has a protective effect and, if correct, it is more irresponsible to stop children living with smokers.  Of course, it has to be said that this isn’t even the real point. There are two points:

Firstly, a ban such as this needs to rest on solid, irrefutable proof. There is, though, no such thing when it comes to passive smoke. At best there is uncertain and questionable evidence that passive smoke may increase risk of some health issues. Let’s not forget though that if the evidence were truly solid and overwhelming, children living with smokers would be taken into care as fast as those living with drug addled parents.

The second point is that there are already too many children in need of a good loving home. If the council truly had the interests of the children in mind then their first concern should have simply been finding decent places for them to live – not blocking off doors for something as petty as smoking.  After all, there are other ways around it. For instance, how do they know the smokers smoke indoors or even around the children at all? Oddly enough, even the Fostering Network do not agree with the decision, stating “We certainly view this as a good move in terms of creating a smoke-free environment for a child, but we don’t agree that a blanket ban on any smokers becoming foster carers is the right thing.” A remark which any sensible person would agree with – leaving children without a stable abode is hardly the best thing. Being passed from pillar to post with no sense of identity or family can cause no end of problems to the individual, which can, in turn, spread to problems for society. How anyone can possibly think this is less of a concern than smoking is beyond me.

This is not just another removal of yet another civil right and further discrimination against smokers, but is also causing widening of the chasm between smokers and non-smokers. Standing in a shelter in the cold, wind and rain is no longer enough, now smokers must feel inferior by not being able to take on a child in need.  A person’s lifestyle choice, particularly involving a legal substance, should not determine their ability as a parent. The determining factors should be nothing more than their devotion to the child, which is not something that can be measured by their decision to smoke or not.

I will leave this article with the words of a spokesman for FOREST: “This discriminates against plenty of people who would have made excellent foster carers, and so it is damaging not only for them but also for the children that they would have fostered.”

[1] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/7710371.stm
[2] http://www.forces.org/articles/files/who1.htm

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