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Smokers banned by Welsh council from adopting or fostering children

Clare Hutchinson, Western Mail

A COUNCIL has become the first in Wales to impose a blanket ban on smokers adopting or fostering children.

Anti-smoking campaigners last night welcomed the move by Merthyr Tydfil council, but critics have pointed out there are already not enough foster parents in Wales.

They fear the changes might discourage potential carers from coming forward and could jeopardize the future of children already in the care of smokers.

Increasing numbers of local authorities, including Cardiff and Pembrokeshire, have banned smokers from fostering children under five but this is the nation’s first blanket no-smoking rule for foster carers and adopters.

Roslyn Rees, head of operational children’s services at Merthyr Tydfil council, said: “The health, safety and well-being of children and young people are at the heart of policies and practice related to children.

“We acknowledge that expecting all foster carers who currently smoke to give up immediately is not realistic and that it would be detrimental to remove children from stable foster homes because their carer smokes.”

Anti-smoking campaign group Ash Wales said the move was a step in the right direction. A spokesman said: “Children who are exposed to second-hand smoke are at serious risk of pneumonia, bronchitis, headaches and ear infections. Exposure to second-hand smoke has also been linked to the development and worsening of asthma in children.

“Young children are particularly susceptible to the effects of second-hand smoke because their lungs and airways are small and their immune systems immature. Being exposed to second-hand smoke during childhood may also increase the chance of developing chronic constructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cancer as adults.

“It is however vital that in addition to protecting children from exposure to tobacco smoke, that smokers themselves are supported to quit. In introducing this measure we would urge the local authority to ensure that foster careers are given help and advice on how to quit smoking and how to take the necessary steps to make their home smoke free.”

But others have branded the move discriminatory.

Ex-smoker Pam Brown, 62, of Merthyr, is the adoptive mother of Independent councillor Adam Brown, who has distance himself from his council’s political group over the ban.

Mrs Brown said: “Would they rather a child stay in care than put them with a smoker? What about drinkers and recreational drug users? They can hide that, smokers can’t – it’s a very visible habit.

“I think it’s absolutely disgusting; our freedom on smoking was taken away when we were told we can’t smoke in pubs, but to be told we are not allowed to smoke in our own homes is ridiculous.”

Former Talksport presenter Jon Gaunt – who also spent time in care as a child – was famously sacked after branding a councillor who imposed a similar ban in England “a health Nazi”.

He told the Western Mail’s sister paper the Merthyr Express: “I was in care and the bottom line is the person who saved my life was my aunty Rosemary; she was a hospital matron and smoked like a trooper.”

The ban was condemning children to a life in care, he said. “Most kids who are in a care home, if they have the choice of passive smoking or the very real danger of abuse in a care home, they would choose a smoker every time.”

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