Gove wades into foster row over 'indefensible' decision

Council to explain itself tomorrow as Ukip condemns 'bigotry' of Rotherham local authority

Council chiefs will be forced to explain by 9am tomorrow why they decided to remove three children of migrant background from foster parents because of their membership of Ukip, as the bitter political row threatened to overshadow the Rotherham by-election this Thursday.

A husband and wife who had an "exemplary" record during nearly seven years of fostering, said they felt like "criminals" when social workers from Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council told them that their support for the UK Independence Party made them unsuitable to care for three children of EU migrant background – an allegation that council chiefs do not deny.

Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, branded the move "indefensible" and ordered an investigation, while the council's Labour leader demanded a report by Rotherham social services by tomorrow. Mr Gove, himself adopted as a child, said: "Rotherham council have made the wrong decision in the wrong way for the wrong reasons. Rotherham's reasons for denying this family the chance to foster are indefensible. The ideology behind their decision is actively harmful to children.

"Any council which decides that supporting a mainstream UK political party disbars an individual from looking after children in care is sending a dreadful signal that will only decrease the number of loving homes available to children in need."

As the political pointscoring began over the views of Ukip, Downing Street yesterday hurriedly retracted David Cameron's comments in 2006 that members of Ukip were "closet racists".

The director of children's services in Rotherham, Joyce Thacker, insisted yesterday that Ukip's policy on multiculturalism, and previous criticism from a judge that the children's "cultural and ethnic needs" were not being met, informed its decision – a claim that was met with disbelief in Whitehall. She told the BBC: "These children are from EU migrant backgrounds, and Ukip has very clear statements about ending multiculturalism ... and I have to think about how sensitive I am being to those children."

The couple, who live in a village in South Yorkshire and who have asked to remain anonymous, took the children on an emergency placement in September, but eight weeks later they were removed, leaving the couple "stigmatised and slandered". The wife told The Daily Telegraph: "The implication was that we were racist."

Roger Stone, the Labour leader of the council, distanced himself from social services chiefs, who are non-party-political and unelected. Mr Stone said: "We are investigating to make sure everything has been done professionally."

Nigel Farage, the leader of Ukip, said the action amounted to bigotry, adding that while the party wanted the UK to withdraw from the EU and to bring in a cap on immigration, being critical of multiculturalism and political correctness was not racist. Polls put support for Ukip's candidate in Rotherham, Jane Collins, as high as 9 per cent.

Mr Farage said: "This is typical of the kind of bigotry we get from Labour and Labour-controlled councils. It was the Labour government that opened the doors to uncontrolled mass immigration into this country on a scale that we have never seen in the history of the island."

Mr Farage was accused by Labour of using the case to score political points ahead of this Thursday's by-election, in which Labour is defending a 10,000 majority. There were also suggestions that Ukip officials leaked the story to the Telegraph as part of its campaign, which the party denied.

Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, said: "We need loving homes for children across the country. That can come in different forms, it's not about what political party you are a member of."

A Labour source added: "No one should be trying to score political points over the care of three children. We don't know the full facts of this case. Let's establish them before letting Farage turn this into a party-political row."

The by-election was sparked by the resignation of the Labour MP Denis MacShane. Yesterday Mr MacShane tweeted that the council had got its foster decision wrong.

Labour already faced heavy criticism after parachuting in a "safe" candidate, Sarah Champion, a chief executive of a children's hospice, ahead of a Muslim man, Mahroof Hussain.

Fostering rules

* Children should be matched with an appropriate foster carer capable of meeting their needs.

* Before a child is placed in foster care, the local authority responsible must be satisfied that this is the best way to meet their duties of care.

* Local authorities should strive to keep siblings together where they wish to be and where this is consistent with their needs.

* Children should not be moved unless this is by agreement following a statutory review, it is clearly in their best interests, the decision has taken their wishes and feelings into account, and the move is properly planned.

Source: Children Act 1989 (Guidance and Regulations: Fostering Services)

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