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12.15 Religious Identity and Delegated Authority

RELEVANT LEGISLATION AND GUIDANCE

The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations (Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review)

The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations (Volume 4: Fostering Services)

AMENDMENT

In January 2020 the following was added on the duty of the local authority under the Children Act 1989 to consider the wishes and feelings of any child in its care in decisions made about that child. This includes children under the age of 16 years. Consequently should the wishes and feelings of a child be contrary to those of those with parental responsibility with regard to the child’s engagement with religious practices, then these must be duly considered, taking into account the age and level of understanding of the child.


Religious identity sits alongside culture and ethnicity as a defining characteristic of a child or young person’s identity. It should be considered and respected in the same way as gender, language, disability and sexual orientation during the Looked After Review in assessing the extent to which cultural and ethnic needs are being met.

The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations (Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review) state “The child’s carers should be aware of the child’s religion and culture and the manner in which these are reflected in their daily life, including any help the child will need to maintain these links. Even where the child does not have a formal religion s/he may have needs for a spiritual dimension to his/her life and should be supported and encouraged to develop it. These experiences contribute to the child’s sense of identity” (DfE 2010:69).

The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations (Volume 4: Fostering Services) state: “Foster carers should be informed, trained and confident about dealing with issues relating to gender, religion, ethnic origin, cultural background, linguistic background, nationality, disability or sexual orientation, and be able to involve external professional advice and support as necessary. They also need to be able to balance the individual needs, wishes and preferences of the individual child with those of others in the household” (DfE 2011:21).

Children and young people under 16 years of age

Religious identity and rituals, such as baptism, are directed by those holding Parental Responsibility. All children have the right to follow the religious practices of their birth family and it should be established as early as possible whether those with parental responsibility wish their religious beliefs to be extended to the child. Foster carers have a moral, if not a statutory, duty to recognise and respect the religious beliefs of the birth family and therefore should make all reasonable effort to support these, even where they are not those of the foster carer(s). This includes enabling the child to undergo religious rituals, such as baptism and confirmation, at the appropriate age or stage of their life. However s22(4) and (5) of the Children Act 1989 set out the duty of the local authority to consider the wishes and feelings of any child in its care in decisions made about that child. This includes children under the age of 16 years. Consequently should the wishes and feelings of a child be contrary to those of those with parental responsibility with regard to the child’s engagement with religious practices, then these must be duly considered, taking into account the age and level of understanding of the child.

Children and young people over 16 years of age

Young people aged 16 are able to make certain decision on their own cognizance; their wishes regarding their religious beliefs and practices must be respected by the carers, even where these are not to recognise their birth religion.

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