Monday, August 10, 2009

Welsh Council Bans Smokers from Adopting or Fostering Children; Anti-Smoking Group Applauds Action

The Merthyr Tydfil council in Wales has adopted a policy that prohibits smokers from adopting or fostering children. While several councils in Wales have previously enacted policies that prohibit smokers from adopting children under a certain age (such as 2 or 5), this is reportedly the nation's first policy with a blanket prohibition on smokers adopting children, regardless of age.

The policy will apply to new adoptees or foster parents, not to those who already have adopted children or have children in their care.

According to an article at Wales Online: "A Council has become the first in Wales to impose a blanket ban on smokers adopting or fostering children. Anti-smoking campaigners last night welcomed the move by Merthyr Tydfil council, but critics have pointed out there are already not enough foster parents in Wales. They fear the changes might discourage potential carers from coming forward and could jeopardise the future of children already in the care of smokers." ...

"Roslyn Rees, head of operational children’s services at Merthyr Tydfil council, said: “The health, safety and well-being of children and young people are at the heart of policies and practice related to children." ...

"Anti-smoking campaign group ASH Wales said the move was a step in the right direction. A spokesman said: “Children who are exposed to second-hand smoke are at serious risk of pneumonia, bronchitis, headaches and ear infections. Exposure to second-hand smoke has also been linked to the development and worsening of asthma in children."

The Rest of the Story

To me, the rest of the story is that policy makers and anti-smoking groups have developed such narrow blinders that they are only able to see the issue of smoking. Nothing else matters. The overall welfare of a child is evaluated solely on the narrow concern of whether or not the parent(s) are smokers. Whether a child has a parent in the first place is inconsequential. What matters is that the child doesn't have a smoking parent. Better that the child should remain in care without parents, much less loving parents, than that they should be placed with the most loving parents who will provide for all their needs but who happen to be smokers.

The head of the council stated that the well-being of children is at the heart of the policy. Does she not see that the well-being of a child depends on far more than whether or not the parent is a smoker? Is it not far better for a child to have loving parents - albeit smokers - than that the child remains in care? Is it not better to accept as adoptive and foster parents adults who come forward with a willingness to make the sacrifices necessary to give children a loving home, rather than to tell them we're not interested because you smoke? Is it really in the best interests of children in care to tell them that we have found a wonderful couple who is excited about taking them in, but so sorry, we're not letting you out of this place because we heard that the potential mom smokes on occasion?

The ultimate absurdity of the policy is that if you have a sixteen-year-old who happens to smoke who is in need of care, she will not even be placed with a potential family because the potential foster parent smokes. We wouldn't want that smoking adolescent exposed to secondhand smoke, would we? Far better to keep her in care and deprive her of living as part of a family with loving, nurturing parents.

Another absurd element of the policy is that it doesn't even matter whether the potential adoptive or foster parents agree to only smoke outside the home. Apparently, the fact that they are smokers is the problem, not the potential for exposure to secondhand smoke. If the only concern were secondhand smoke, then the council could simply work with prospective parents to make sure they understand the health risks and that they agree to smoke only outside the home. The majority of smoking parents do that anyway.

It is also absurd that the policy doesn't take into account the frequency of smoking. If someone lights up only once a week, and only when they are in particular social settings outside of the home, why should they be ineligible to adopt or foster a child?

It's scary to think that ASH Wales views this as a step in the right direction? Just a step in the right direction? If this is only a step, then I'd hate to see what's at the top of the staircase.

Perhaps the most telling aspect of the Merthyr Tydfil policy on adoption and fostering is that while being a smoker (of any amount and whether or not you agree to smoke outside) is an absolute reason to ban you from adopting or fostering, having a criminal conviction is not.

According to the Council's policy: "We have to complete a check with the Criminal Records Bureau to know if there have been any convictions noted against you. If we are advised of any convictions, we will discuss the nature of these with you. It does not necessarily mean that a conviction will preclude you from becoming a foster carer."

In other words, if you are a convicted criminal, the Merthyr Tydfil Council still seeks your application as a potential foster or adoptive parent. However, if you are a smoker, the Merthyr Tydfil Council does not seek your application as a potential foster or adoptive parent.

I can just imagine a conversation with a young girl in care: "We're sorry, but the nice young couple which told you they wanted to adopt you has been disqualified....yes, I know they seem perfect for you, but it turns out that the woman is a smoker.....oh, don't worry, dear, we have another potential adoptive parent, he's a convicted criminal.....oh, don't worry, dear, it could be worse, at least he's not a smoker."

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