Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Dundee City Council Threatens to Remove Children from Foster Parents if They Smoke in the Home

According to a 2006 article in the Times Online, the Dundee (Scotland) City Council threatened to remove children from their foster parents if the parents fail to agree not to smoke in the home.

According to the article: "Smokers who already have foster children under five in their care face having them removed if they smoke at home. The conditions are being introduced ahead of a ban on smoking in public places, which will give Scotland some of the world’s most draconian anti-smoking laws. However, critics have branded the latest regulations as irresponsible and over-the-top, claiming that officials are putting political correctness before the needs of children. Murdo Fraser, deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said: “It would be horrific to see children taken from their homes where they are otherwise happily settled simply because one of their parents is a smoker.” Dr John Simmonds, policy director of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, said: “The priority has to be stability and permanence.” Pam Hibbert, principal policy officer for Barnardo’s Scotland, said the psychological effects of taking a child from an otherwise stable and happy home could be more damaging than the effects of second-hand cigarette smoke."

Also according to the article: "Existing carers who breach the policy will be offered training and information about the harmful effects of passive smoking. “Those still unwilling to adhere to the policy will be the subject of a fostering review to discuss the implications of this in terms of their continued fostering,” the paper says. Asked if this meant carers could lose custody of children, a council spokesman said: “We are not ruling that out.”"

Referring to the policy of no smoking in the home, the Dundee policy states: "Current carers who smoke will be asked to conform to the new policy. Almost half have stated their intention to do so. It is acknowledged that we cannot achieve an immediate policy implementation in the households where the carers are unwilling to conform but will work toward this. Carers who continue to breach the policy will receive training and information regarding the harmful effects for children. All Dundee carers wishing to stop smoking will be offered advice and assistance with this. In the longer term those still unwilling to adhere to the policy will be the subject of a fostering review to discuss the implications of this in terms of their continued fostering."

The Rest of the Story

While this story is a bit old, I publish it in the wake of yesterday's story about the council in Wales which will no longer allow smokers to foster or adopt children because I want to present a picture of the range of rather draconian policies that are being enacted in the name of protecting children which actually do far more harm than good. In my view, this demonstrates the tremendous narrow-mindedness of many anti-smoking groups, which apparently can't see any factors beyond parental smoking which affect a child's welfare.

This policy goes one step beyond the Wales (Merthyr Tydfil) policy as it affects children who are already in foster care.

The thinking of the Dundee council is apparently that being exposed to secondhand smoke in the home is worse than having no family. And that being removed from your family is better than being with your family but having secondhand smoke exposure.

To which I say: absolutely disgusting.

Seriously, this is disgusting. I can't possibly express the degree of my condemnation of this policy strongly enough.

To think that the Dundee council would even think of permanently separating children from their parents (albeit foster parents, but they are still they parents) simply because of the risk of some ear and upper respiratory infections is disturbing.

Exposure to wood smoke also increases children's risk of respiratory infections. In fact, wood smoke is more hazardous than secondhand smoke exposure in terms of respiratory infections because while secondhand smoke only causes upper respiratory tract infections, wood smoke causes lower respiratory tract infections - like pneumonia - which are far more serious.

Is the Dundee council going to also remove children from parents who use wood stoves for heat? Is it also better for children to be taken from their families than for them to have some exposure to wood smoke particles?

It is a shame that councils in the UK are losing the ability to distinguish between risk and harm. Unfortunately, this failure is bound to result in actual harm to children.

While there have been few more outspoken about the hazards of secondhand smoke exposure than myself, I think one needs to have some perspective on the overall factors that affect the welfare of children. Sure, secondhand smoke exposure is one of them. But so is having parents and a family. And frankly, the fact that many policy makers, anti-smoking groups and advocates fail to have any perspective on the relative importance of the two is unfortunate. How they could believe that removing children from a family to protect them from secondhand smoke exposure is in the best interests of the child is absolutely beyond my comprehension. And so, once again, I condemn it in the strongest possible terms.

(Thanks to Rose for the tip).

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