Discrimination is never in the best interest of children and, as such, is diametrically opposed to the ideals of child welfare. Still, in recent years, there has been a steady dismantling of non-discrimination protections in the child welfare system, under the auspices of protecting the religious liberty of service providers. The argument—which was successfully used to earn South Carolina a waiver from federal non-discrimination protections last January and to rescind those federal protections entirely in November— is that prohibiting an agency receiving taxpayer funds from denying otherwise eligible adults form becoming foster parents solely because they are gay, or Jewish, or divorced would violate the religious liberty of that organization.
The case, Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, centers around a Philadelphia policy requiring agencies receiving city contracts to place children in foster care to comply with the city’s ban on discrimination. In 2018, the city learned that two faith-based organizations were violating that ban by refusing to license same-sex couples as foster parents. When the city informed the two organizations that it would no longer refer children to them, one organization changed their policies. The other, Catholic Social Services, filed a lawsuit alleging that the city’s ban on taxpayer-funded discrimination encroached on the organization’s freedom of religion. The case, which has been appealed up to the Supreme Court, would force the city to renew Catholic Social Services’ contract while allowing them to deny potential foster families for their sexual orientation or gender identity. It would also have profound impacts on the child welfare system and the children and families it serves.
The Children’s Defense Fund is proud to join an amicus brief on behalf of the City of Philadelphia. As we argued in response to the South Carolina waiver and the Notice of Proposed Rule Making law year, discrimination in any form is harmful for children. In a time when there is a huge shortage in foster families and when more than 125,000 children are waiting to be adopted, allowing agencies to turn away LGBTQ adults who want to provide loving, stable families is diametrically opposed to the best interest of the children those agencies are meant to serve.
Allowing discrimination in the child welfare system would limit the pool of families for children who need them. That would mean more children would be placed into institutional settings instead of with families because there simply aren’t enough families to care for them. It would mean youth would be forced to languish in foster care and potentially age out without a permanent family because there are not adoptive homes for them.
Allowing discrimination would also decrease the diversity of available foster and adoptive families. When finding foster and adoptive homes for youth, it is crucial to not simply find afamily for a child, but the rightfamily. Limiting the pool of foster families to only those who pass a religious litmus test will mean appropriate placements are not available for kids who need them, which will lead to placement instability and failed adoptions. This is especially true in the case of LGBTQ parents, who are more likely to foster or adopt so-called “hard to place” youth, including older youth and sibling groups.
Finally, allowing discrimination sends a terrible signal to LGBTQ youth in the child welfare system. Many of these youth find themselves in the system because of abuse they faced as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity and once they are in the system they face higher rates of discrimination and emotional, physical, and sexual abuse than their heterosexual peers. Denying LGBTQ foster families not only turns away loving and affirming homes for these youth, but send the message to them that because of who they are who they love, they are not capable of creating a loving family.
It is unconscionable that an agency that purports to act in the best interest of children would try to introduce discrimination into child welfare. The Children’s Defense Fund strongly condemns discrimination in any of its forms. We are proud to have joined this amicus brief on behalf of the City of Philadelphia.
Read the amicus brief here.