Inspectors criticise Sunderland Christian fostering agency for only considering carers who are in heterosexual marriages
A Sunderland Christian fostering agency has been criticised by inspectors for discriminating against potential carers who are not heterosexual, a month after a judge told it to change its rules – though the agency is seeking an appeal over the ruling.
Ofsted, the education watchdog, found the Cornerstone North East Fostering Service would only recruit carers who were already in heterosexual marriages, excluding others.
Ofsted’s most recent inspection of the agency was carried out in February 2019, but only released publicly on August 11.
Publication was delayed after the watchdog’s findings were challenged in the courts.
Cornerstone North East said it had succeeded in having amendments made to the report. It is also seeking an appeal against the court judgement over its right to uphold its ‘faith-based principles’.
While Ofsted inspectors accepted the organisation was placing children in ‘stable and nurturing homes’, it also claimed other practices were often ‘insufficient’ and ‘inconsistent’.
According to the published report: “The agency’s recruitment policy is discriminatory, in that it excludes prospective carers who are not heterosexuals.
“Although this had not directly impacted on the experience and progress of children and young people in the cases seen, it does not ensure that prospective carers are considered without prejudice and with appropriate emphasis on their capacity to care for children.”
The agency, which was founded in 1999, describes itself as ‘faith-based’ and that all its carers are Christians, but adds children under its care ‘obviously have a right to choose what they believe’.
According to inspectors, most of the children they saw were in ‘good quality, stable and permanent placements’ with foster parents arranged by the agency, who were also noted to be well supported by bosses.
At its last official assessment, in 2015, Cornerstone was rated ‘Good’, but this time around was downgraded to ‘Requires Improvement’.
In July 2020 a high court judge ruled its rules requiring prospective foster carers to ‘refrain from homosexual conduct’ was unlawful.
Cornerstone has said it is seeking an appeal against the judgement.
Other issues highlighted by inspectors included:
:: Inconsistent record keeping
:: Failure to notify Ofsted of ‘significant and serious events in a timely manner’ – although inspectors also accepted these had also been managed safely and appropriately at the time
:: Better access to some training for carers
In a statement posted on its website following the report’s publication, Cornerstone said: “Ofsted inspected Cornerstone in March 2019.
“The report was not published immediately as Cornerstone strongly disputes the aspects of this report relating to equality law which resulted in a negative grading.
“We challenged Ofsted in the courts, seeking to have the report overturned.
“Following court proceedings in May 2020 Ofsted were required to amend their initial inspection report, which is now published.
“Cornerstone is seeking leave to appeal the judgement of the court on the question of legal compliance with the Equalities Act 2010 read in conjunction with articles 8 and 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as we believe this is fundamental to our faith-based principles.
“Notwithstanding the delay in publication of the report, Cornerstone believes it addressed the other matters raised by the due date (now past) and remains committed to securing the best possible outcomes for children and young people.
“We are confident that our position, which has previously been endorsed by the Charity Commission, will be upheld.”