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City halts foster care intakes at two agencies that discriminate against LGBTQ people

The call comes after an Inquirer and Daily News report found that two agencies funded by the city discriminate against LGBTQ people for religious reasons.

Councilwoman Cindy Bass introduced a resolution, passed Thursday, to investigate how DHS wound up contracting with two foster care agencies that discriminate against LGBTQ people.
Councilwoman Cindy Bass introduced a resolution, passed Thursday, to investigate how DHS wound up contracting with two foster care agencies that discriminate against LGBTQ people.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

The city announced Thursday that it had stopped two faith-based agencies from placing foster children after learning the organizations discriminate against LGBTQ people.

The Philadelphia Department of Human Services has ceased foster-care intake with Bethany Christian Services and Catholic Social Services, pending an investigation by the Commission on Human Relations.

The restriction follows an Inquirer and Daily News report that the city-funded agencies will not work with LGBTQ people or same-sex couples interested in becoming foster parents, a stance that likely violates city contract rules. The organizations do work with LGBTQ youth.

DHS spokeswoman Heather Keafer said the 233 children already placed with families through the organizations would remain in those homes but new placements with the organizations would stop.

"Our goal is to minimize placement disruptions (moving children between foster homes), and to ensure that a child's ability to reunify with their family of origin or to continue an adoption process is not delayed because of a placement disruption," Keafer said in a statement.

Also on Thursday, City Council passed a resolution to investigate the contracting policies at DHS.

A same-sex couple who approached Bethany Christian Services about becoming foster parents were turned away in October. Catholic Social Services told the Inquirer and Daily News it also does not work with LGBTQ people interested in being foster parents, though it knew of no inquiries from same-sex couples.

Together the agencies have received about $3 million in foster care reimbursement funds from the city each year.

Councilwoman Cindy Bass introduced the resolution, which calls on the Committee on Public Health and Human Services to "investigate policies on contracting with social service agencies that discriminate against prospective LGBTQ foster parents."

Philadelphia contracts prohibit discrimination against individuals based on sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation, as does the city's 1963 Fair Practices Ordinance.

The nonprofits, which have contracted with the city since the late 1990s, have long operated under religious restrictions. Ken Gavin, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said Catholic Social Services' stance is a "well-established and long-known one in our relationship with DHS."

As the need for foster parents has grown nationwide and with the legalization of same-sex marriage, similar issues have been reported around the country. The ACLU is involved in a lawsuit against the State of Michigan in which Bethany and Catholic Social Services are the two organizations cited for refusing to work with same-sex couples. Michigan has a law that protects faith-based foster care and adoption organizations. Pennsylvania has no such law.

Keafer has said DHS welcomes individuals regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race, religion or neighborhood. Foster parents need not be married nor own their homes.

DHS has said it is evaluating its contracts with all 26 foster care agencies as well as consulting with the city's legal department on whether the denials violate city contract law.

The department is in the midst of a recruitment push to add 300 qualified foster parents.