On August 19, the majority staff of the House Committee on Ways and Means released the findings of a year-long investigation into a waiver the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) granted South Carolina in January of last year. The waiver at the center of the report allowed federally funded child welfare providers in the state to discriminate against potential foster and adoptive parents on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or religion. South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster requested the waiver on behalf of Miracle Hill Ministries, a faith-based child welfare provider that supervises roughly 15 percent of foster parents in South Carolina. Miracle Hill claimed that it would have to close its doors if it was not allowed to refuse to license Jews, Catholics, or LGBTQ adults as foster parents.
The Children’s Defense Fund was one of 11 organizations asked by Representatives John Lewis and Danny Davis to submit expert testimony for the investigation. We proudly and unequivocally believe that discrimination is never in the best interest of children and that truly serving children requires affirming their identities and the identities of their caregivers.
The report, Children at Risk: The Trump Administration’s Waiver of Foster Care Nondiscrimination Requirements, found that the waiver was improper and that, in issuing it, HHS violated the statutory mandate to act in the best interest of the child. It found that discrimination threatens to exacerbate a foster parent shortage, that discrimination protections are in the best interest of children, and that the waiver sets a dangerous precedent that will lead to discrimination against and harm to those the child welfare system is meant to protect. Finally, it found that the Administration failed to consider the impact that providing this waiver could have and that, though it did not factor into their decision, the Administration was well aware of the negative impact this would have on LGBTQ children and adults.
Succinctly, the report states that the waiver “intentionally harms LGBTQ children, adults, and families” and “violates civil rights and the mandate to operate in the best interest of a child by denying appropriate, safe, loving, and affirming foster home placements.”
Accordingly, the report made several recommendations. First and foremost, it recommends that HHS withdraw the waiver and that the agency reinstate the non-discrimination protections in child welfare that were rescinded in December. Additionally, the committee suggests that HHS be required to consult both internal and external child welfare experts before making any changes to standing practices and to publish the testimony of those experts, in order to prevent future situations in which the interests of children are disregarded and their rights violated.
CDF is proud to have contributed expert testimony to the Committee on Ways and Means for this investigation. We are extremely grateful to Representative Danny Davis and the late Representative John Lewis for their steadfast leadership and tireless advocacy on behalf of children. We are dedicated to building a system free of discrimination where every child can grow up in a safe, stable, loving family that affirms and celebrates them for who they are.