Friday, March 21, 2008

Smokers need not apply

According to the Sheffield (England) City Council web site, they desperately want and need foster parents and emphasize that they take nearly all comers. The web site claims: "The reason we are so open is because what matters most to a child is who you are as a person, your character and capacity to care. So you need to be able to empathise with children who are going through a tough time. Be sympathetic and caring even when a child is being difficult and more importantly have a good sense of humour."

"People with criminal convictions or cautions can foster, much depends on the seriousness of the offence, how long ago it was, and how you have lived your life since."

Among the short list of those who will not be permitted to foster children are child molesters, child abusers and smokers. That’s right folks; in Sheffield, England, smokers have been declared unfit parents.

In a March 19, 2008 interview with the Sheffield Star, Paul Makin, Sheffield Council's acting executive director of children and young people's services, said: "Our first priority is to keep children safe. Therefore, we are not considering foster carer applications for this age group from smokers or those who have given up smoking within the last year."

The Star article also points out that under proposed new rules being considered by neighbouring Rotherham Council, children under five would not be placed with families who smoke. A report to Rotherham Council states: "Discussions with foster carers of children who continue to smoke have indicated a very responsible approach to the issue – they smoke outside the house and attempt at all times not to smoke in front of the children, so avoiding negative role models.”

But, they also note: "We could, by placing children in environments where they may be subject to adverse long-term effects on their health as a result of smoking, be making ourselves liable to legal challenge if the health of former looked-after children and young people becomes compromised as a result of placements when in care."

Dr. Michael Siegel, himself an anti-smoking advocate, says: “Importantly, most smokers who want to adopt or foster children agree not to smoke around their children. Just because an individual smokes doesn't mean that he or she will smoke around the child. To categorically deny foster parenthood to individuals who smoke without even considering whether they will actually expose the children to tobacco smoke or not is not only discriminatory, but it seems hateful.”

He adds: “The policy will likely result in some children being denied foster home care. It also might result in some parents being allowed to foster who are much higher risks to the children than the excluded smokers would have been. Almost invariably, a categorical exclusion of smokers is going to decrease the quality of the final foster parent pool. Ironically, the policy that is supposed to help protect children may, in the long run, end up doing some harm.”

In closing, Dr. Siegel asks the question: “With this kind of hateful policy toward smokers, is it any surprise that a large proportion of smokers are becoming increasingly resistant to the idea of quitting?”

You’re right Doc. This kind of disgusting, indefensible discrimination will only breed defiance. For those who choose to quit; good luck and God bless. For me; “I’ll give up my fags when they pry them from my cold, dead hands.” (With apologies to Charlton Heston and the NRA.)

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