A council that broke up a foster family because the parents were members of the UK Independence Party (Ukip) has been strongly criticised by the Education Secretary for its "indefensible" decision.
Michael Gove said social workers at Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council had made "the wrong decision in the wrong way for the wrong reasons" and that he would be personally investigating and exploring steps to "deal with" the situation.
Three children were removed from the care of a married couple because social workers were concerned about their "cultural and ethnic needs". The couple, who have not been named, are in their late 50s and have looked after about a dozen children in the past seven years. The latest placement of three children began in September but was ended after eight weeks over their membership of Ukip.
The South Yorkshire foster parents claimed they had been told Ukip - which campaigns for British withdrawal from the European Union and tougher controls on immigration - was "racist". The council's decision was met with fury from Ukip leader Nigel Farage, who called for resignations over what he said was an "appalling" decision.
Mr Gove, who heads the Government department responsible for children's services and who was himself adopted as a child, accused Rotherham of sending out a "dreadful signal".
"Rotherham council have made the wrong decision in the wrong way for the wrong reasons. Rotherham's reasons for denying this family the chance to foster are indefensible," he said. "The ideology behind their decision is actively harmful to children. We should not allow considerations of ethnic or cultural background to prevent children being placed with loving and stable families. We need more parents to foster, and many more to adopt.
"Any council which decides that supporting a mainstream UK political party disbars an individual from looking after children in care is sending a dreadful signal that will only decrease the number of loving homes available to children in need. I will be investigating just how this decision came to be made and what steps we need to take to deal with this situation."
Joyce Thacker, strategic director of children and young people's services at Rotherham council, said the three ethnic minority children had been placed with the couple as an emergency and it was never going to be a long-term arrangement. Asked what the specific problem was with the couple being Ukip members, Mrs Thacker told BBC Breakfast: "We have to think about the clear statements on ending multi-culturalism for example."
Mr Farage accused the Labour-controlled council of bigotry. Asked how he felt on hearing of the council's actions, he said: "Very upset and very angry, particularly for the couple involved, who have been fostering for many years and are very decent people, and the awful shock to them of having these children removed, not to mention the upset to the children themselves."
Labour leader Ed Miliband called for an urgent investigation into the case, saying: "Being a member of Ukip should not be a bar to adopting or fostering children. The couple concerned are making extremely serious claims, very disturbing claims."