Twelve years ago our lives changed dramatically when we became therapeutic foster parents. What started out to help one boy turned into a journey that would eventually include 18 other children, three of whom we adopted. In the process, we learned just how rare we are; not in our ability to parent these children, but in our willingness to do so.
So imagine how saddened I was to learn states are now passing laws allowing child welfare agencies with religious affiliations to use “sincerely held religious beliefs” to prevent children from being fostered and adopted by qualified families such as ours. These groups turn away interfaith couples, single parents, gays and couples where one spouse has been divorced, just to name a few. If they can’t find a doctrinally perfect family for a child, then the child will have no family at all. If ever there was an example of perfect being the enemy of good, this has to be it.
To prove crazy has escaped its cage, these same religious agencies are funded by our tax dollars! Republicans in Congress, who seem perpetually stuck on stupid, are advancing an amendment to cut 15 percent of federal adoption funding to states and cities that penalize adoption agencies refusing to place children in families that conflict with the agency’s religious beliefs. Child welfare law is being flipped on its head, where for the first time the rights of contractors will take priority over the best interests of the children.
Nine states now have laws allowing agencies receiving taxpayer funding to discriminate– Alabama, Mississippi, Kansas, Michigan, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota, Virginia and Texas. And in what can only be described as heartbreaking, more than 21,000 youth are awaiting adoption in those states.
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None of these precious children got into foster care on their own. They’ve been abused, maltreated and abandoned. They were born to the wrong folks, in the wrong place, at the wrong time. They are considered damaged goods. Folks just don’t line up to love them and make them part of their family. The odds of being shuffled from home to home throughout their childhood are high and the odds of being adopted are extremely low. If they are African American, female or gay then make those odds almost zero.
What eventually happens to these kids? They “age out” - an innocuous term meaning they get too old for foster care and are pushed out of the proverbial nest. They are sent into this big, complicated world belonging to nothing and no one. Society’s independent contractors, with no family, no tribe and no hope. Think about how much of a role family, friends and community have played in your life. Now imagine none of those ever existed.
Religious organizations have a constitutionally protected right to believe whatever they wish. However, by accepting taxpayer funding to offer adoption and foster services, these organizations are participating in a publicly funded secular activity, since children are in the protection of the state. Given the lack of qualified parents, having the government give contractors and subcontractors a license to discriminate, further limiting the pool of parents for no legitimate reason, is an amazingly unacceptable use of taxpayer dollars. We don’t have the luxury of being this foolish.