Here’s a Jeopardy! clue for you: Number of states that currently allow state-licensed child-welfare agencies to turn away qualified citizens because they are Catholic, Jewish, single, or LGBTQ. Correct answer: “What is 10?”
One in five American states allow foster and adoption agencies to turn away potential parents who do not share the same beliefs and practices as they do; in most of them, that applies equally to taxpayer-funded agencies performing those services on behalf of the state.
Considering there are 443,000 youth in the foster care system in the U.S with 123,000 of those children waiting for adoption and more than 20,000 youth each year “aging out” of the system, why would anyone allow children to go unparented, unloved, and all too often experience homelessness? What can be done?
One important part of any solution is to end discrimination in the system. To that end, Philadelphia Family Pride is supporting the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, legislation spearheaded by the Family Equality Council and a broad cross-section of faith, parent, child welfare, and other advocates, introduced last week as H.R. 3114 by iconic civil rights champion U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D., Ga.) and U.S. Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón (R., P.R.) and later this month, by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.).
The legislation prohibits discrimination against children, youth, families, and individuals on the basis of religion, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), and marital status in the administration and provision of child-welfare services receiving federal funds. Critically, this legislation will improve care to the 1 in 5 foster youth who identify as LGBTQ and for religious minority foster youth by providing resources and guidance to ensure that they receive affirming, supportive care and placements, and will ensure that foster youth are not subjected to conversion therapy.
Here in Pennsylvania, we have no statewide regulation or law prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ parents or trans kids in foster care, but the state does protect foster children against discrimination based on their sexual orientation.
Over the past couple of years, Philly Family Pride, the region’s LGBTQ family group, has worked a lot in the area of supporting LGBTQ foster youth and LGBTQ foster parents in Philadelphia.
Partnering with DHS and the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs, we have organized several foster parent recruitment events where the focus is on finding homes for LGBTQ youth in the system. Over 200 prospective foster parents have attended these events and several have already become certified foster families with children and youth living in their homes. Our next event will be held at the Penn LGBT Center on August 22.
Last spring when Catholic Social Services sued the city in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, asking the court to allow them to discriminate against same-sex couples seeking to become foster parents, we teamed with the ACLU to intervene in the case.
We won in federal district court last summer and recently celebrated another victory in the case when the Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Philadelphia is entitled to require its taxpayer-funded child-welfare agencies to abide by its nondiscrimination requirements.
Of the 443,000 foster youth in America, 16,891 of them reside in Pennsylvania and 3,711 of them were waiting to be adopted at the end of the fiscal year. By any measure, this is a heartbreaking statistic. But each person with a voice, a conscience, and a vote, can do something about this right now by joining us in supporting enactment of the Every Child Deserves a Family Act.
Stephanie Haynes is the executive director of Philadelphia Family Pride.