For a while in the 1980s and 1990s there was a view that the fostering or adoption of children of black or Asian heritage by white families was tantamount to child abuse. This despite the fact that in some minority ethnic communities there was a limited tradition of adoption, and waiting to find a perfect cultural match for a child might actually result in them never finding a home at all.
I was reminded of this last week when Ash Scotland (Action on Smoking and Health) put out a briefing note saying there should not be a bar on recruiting smokers within Scotland’s care system.
The smoking prevention charity is usually known for being pretty hardline and indeed it highlighted wide variations in the attitudes taken by councils in a 2014 survey, although fostering and adoption agencies usually followed guidance banning smokers from fostering or adopting babies, children under five, disabled children unable to play outside, and children with respiratory problems.
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In a welcome and perhaps unexpected stance, Ash is now saying there are wider considerations to take into account. “Someone who smokes is as likely to be a good and suitable carer as anyone else and should not be excluded simply because they smoke,” the charity says.
“We don’t want to stigmatise smokers, most aren’t smoking out of choice,” information officer Allison Brisbane told me. “One parent thought they had to change their clothes before they could pick up their child. That’s nonsense and there’s no evidence base for it at all.”
While Sheila Duffy, Ash Scotland chief executive, made clear that it continues to be concerned about the exposure of children in care to smoke and indeed the number of “looked after” children who smoke themselves, she said it was more important children had the best and most appropriate carers.
Laws already prevent smoking in cars with children and foster or adoptive carers are generally strongly advised to smoke out of doors and given help and advice to quit.
But the idea that a child might be denied a loving home because a would-be parent has an unhealthy habit – as happens in some local authority areas – suggests we are still confused about the real priorities.