Department for Education-funded initiative will focus on the Midlands

A humanitarian charity is to launch the UK’s first dedicated programme to tackle the shortage of Muslim applicants to adopt children.

The Penny Appeal, based in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, has won £200,000 funding from the Department for Education to support the 12-month project.

Some 2,000 of the 70,000 children in care in 2015 were of Muslim heritage, a Freedom of Information request by the charity revealed. The current figure is expected to be higher as a third of English councils do not record the religion of children in their care and a number of recently arrived unaccompanied asylum seeking children in the UK are of Muslim heritage.

Very few Muslims apply to foster or adopt and since 2015 the Penny Appeal has been running a unique referral service offering information and support to would-be foster carers of all backgrounds.

Some Muslim families are deterred from applying because they wrongly believe that adoption is a sin, said Tay Jiva, the charity’s adoption and fostering manager.

“Our research has shown that many Muslims have poor levels of knowledge about adoption,” she said. “Many of them think, incorrectly, that adoption is a sin. By showing that this is a mistaken belief I am confident that more Muslims will consider applying to adopt a child who desperately needs a safe and loving home.”

The Penny Appeal has invited a group of prominent Islamic scholars to write a guidance document to clarify the religious stance on adoption and fostering.

The initiative will focus on the Midlands, which has a high proportion of Muslim residents, a large number of children being taken into care and the highest percentage of Muslim children being placed in non-Muslim foster homes.

Being adopted by someone from the same religion could help ensure children’s religious and cultural needs were met, said Jiva.

Over the course of the year, the Penny Appeal’s adoption and fostering team will attend dozens of events in community centres and mosques to raise awareness of adoption.

Alongside the recruitment drive, the charity will also be training social workers to help them better support Muslim applicants and adopters, and bringing professionals in the sector closer together with Muslim community leaders.

Research by Coventry University and CoramBAAF aims to discover what barriers Muslims face in becoming adopters, the most effective methods of recruiting them and what kind of support they require. Findings will be shared nationally, to improve recruitment across the country.

The children’s minister, Edward Timpson, said: “We aspire to have every child grow up in a loving, stable home, and the Practice and Improvement fund should make a real difference to the experience of adoption for so many vulnerable children and their families.

“We know there is more we can do, and I hope that projects like this one by the Penny Appeal will pave the way with great ideas of how they can better support children and adoptive families.”

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