EastEnders has recently been running a fostering storyline. After the great work they did in 2011 with Comic Relief, highlighting childhood sexual exploitation in a special film, I was expecting writing of similar quality.
Sadly, on this occasion they fell a long way short. The character of Jade has been placed in foster care, and EastEnders has the birth family track her down at her foster placement easily. We also discover that the foster carer she is placed with will accept cash bribes to cut some of Jade’s hair and pass it to the birth family so they can undertake a DNA test to ascertain her parentage. The foster carer then arranges contact with family members who Jade has never met before.
So far, so dramatic you might say. To an extent fair enough: this is fiction so why not pump up the drama? Except that every day more than 50,000 foster carers are looking after our most vulnerable children on our behalf. They are doing this for little money and sometimes with inadequate support. They are, as Lord Laming recently said, “heroes of the state”.
None of them, not one, not ever, would do anything like the EastEnders storyline. And we need more of them, desperately, more ordinary people with the heart, the emotional stamina and the determination to do extraordinary things for the children they care for on our behalf.
EastEnders has millions of viewers, some of them foster carers, some of them children in foster care and some of them potential foster carers. How many might have been put off by the cynical, poorly researched and downright nasty portrayal of foster care by the BBC?
Being good licence fee payers, some of our foster carers complained to the BBC. This is what they got in return:
"It is clear from your e-mail you feel the storyline featuring Jade’s foster carer is unrealistic and inaccurate. …"
It is objectively a complete fantasy, there is no subjective point of view: the storyline was a careless fiction written with no regard for the truth of foster care.
"As with all sensitive subject matter that we cover on EastEnders, we approached the storyline of Shabnam Masood’s daughter being in foster care with great care and attention. We sought guidance and advice from a number of experts in this field and they advised us throughout the whole process; from the planning and development stages, through to scripting and filming. …"
Really? Who? Please name the “experts” who said a foster carer would accept cash to conspire in a DNA test.
"It is true that EastEnders does aim to reflect real-life as far as possible, and because of this we are aware that storylines we cover can be very different for someone who has been affected by the subject than for a person who has not gone through such an experience. But that said, ultimately it is a fictional drama series rather than a documentary, and therefore an element of dramatic licence is sometimes necessary – as Jade’s foster dad is not meant to be representative of all foster parents. …"
Jade’s foster dad is not representative of any foster parent. He is made up from the overwrought imagination of a BBC writer.
"We must also point out that although we don’t condone the actions of all of our fictional characters all of the time, we believe that they should be able to express views/opinions or actions, even if we don’t personally agree with them. I appreciate you may continue to be unhappy with this storyline but I hope I’ve helped to explain our position on the matter."
Well, you’ve made up a story that slanders foster carers and made it harder for us to attract more people to look after the children who so desperately need their care. But that’s all right, because it’s all just a story and you don’t really condone what they did.
Like all people who are happy to have power but do all they can to avoid the responsibility that goes with it, the BBC is using weasel words to justify this lazy, clichéd and degrading storyline.
I am lucky enough in my job to meet many of the UK’s foster carers and see first-hand the excellent work they are doing. There is more real drama in a week’s foster care than there is in a year’s worth of EastEnders. A decent writing team could have portrayed foster care accurately and with far greater dramatic effect. Instead they went for this insulting and demeaning storyline. Foster carers deserve better than this shoddy treatment by the nation’s broadcaster.
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