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Christian fostering agency to take Ofsted to court over 'discriminatory' report

by Heather Preston

A Christian fostering agency is taking legal against Ofsted after it labelled its practices discriminatory in its latest report.

Cornerstone (North East) Adoption and Fostering Service which works exclusively with Evangelical Christian carers who believe marriage is between a man and a woman, was downgraded from "good" to "requires improvement" by the watchdog following a report that claimed the company needed a more liberal culture. 

The agency says Ofsted is unlawfully forcing it to abandon its Christian values.

Cornerstone CEO Pam Birtle was herself in care as a child. Speaking about the company's legal challenge in a video online she explained that the families they work with want to belong to an agency that accepts who they are as Christians.

"Cornerstone was founded 20 years ago in order to meet a need - to provide support and a safe place for Christian couples and singles to carry out their fostering and adoption in an environment where their faith was clearly understood and valued."

According to Birtle, the agency has facilitated the transition to adoption for about 80 per cent of the children it has placed and there have been no adoption breakdowns during the organisation's 20-year history.

The agencies legal representative The Christian Institute argue that Ofsted's requirements are a "disproportionate interference" in Cornerstone's rights under the Human Rights Act 1998 and are "incompatible" with provisions in the Equality Act 2010, which establish that religious charities may restrict "the provision of benefits" to fellow believers.

Deputy Director of the Institute Simon Calvert commented: "Ofsted is seeking to deny Cornerstone's right to rely on these exceptions, which are used every day by many thousands of religious bodies and places of worship. 
"Evangelical Christians sometimes struggle to get through local authorities' fostering recruitment because they can be uncomprehending of, or even hostile to, their beliefs. Cornerstone widens the pool of available adopters by bringing evangelical carers into the system, whilst subjecting them to the same rigorous assessment you would expect from any good agency.

"The staff and trustees are effectively being ordered to go against their faith by a government body."

The High Court will hear a judicial review of Ofsted's actions next week.

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