Guidelines 'may be scaring off foster parents': Obese couple removed from council register. Graham Moorby reports

TOUGH guidelines may be scaring off potential foster parents, leaving thousands of children in council care.

According to foster agencies, would-be parents face close examination of their lifestyle and health which might put them off caring for one of the 40,000 children in need of fostering.

The problems faced by foster parents were highlighted yesterday when a Welsh couple was removed from a council register because of obesity. Tony Edwards, who weighs 25 stone, and his wife, Yvonne, who weighs more than 20 stone, were declared unfit to look after children, in spite of four years as foster parents.

Geoff Gurney, deputy director of the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering, said the guidelines were necessary, although some people could be put off. 'The issue here is health rather than size,' he said.

''This could make some people think again. But we do not want them to be put off. The right message is that people need to be healthy.'

Foster agencies say the difficulties involved in bringing up foster children and the lack of financial rewards deter volunteers. Potential parents will be asked about any police record and their health, including whether they smoke or drink. Earlier this year the BAAF issued advice that it was not desirable for children up to the age of two to be placed with smokers because of the risk from passive smoking.

There are no strict guidelines about what determines a healthy couple and decisions are discretionary, based on medical advice.

A social worker will visit the family before a decison is taken by a panel made up of medical and foster agency representatives. Foster parents are subject to an annual review. The Edwards were accepted as foster parents four years ago by South Glamorgan County Council. There were no complaints about their work and their foster children were not obese.

Their permission to foster was withdrawn earlier this year on medical advice. Dr Heather Payne, who examined the couple for the council, said: 'There is no way I can approve the couple as foster parents until they have reduced their weight.'

She said that her concerns were based on health fears for the couple and the example being set to the child. Dr Payne also said there was a profound psychological disorder commonly associated with obese people.

Leading article, page 23