Imagine these scenarios:
An 8-year-old recently removed from his birth family must spend the holidays in an unfamiliar group home instead of enjoying them with his favorite aunts, a same-sex couple who live nearby.
An 11-year-old struggles to understand why there isn't a family to care for her, while a qualified, loving same-sex couple looking to support a child reels from the pain of being turned away by another agency.
A 16-year-old, kicked out by their birth parents because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, hides their LGBTQ+ identity from their new foster family, for fear of being uprooted again.
The city of Philadelphia's nondiscrimination policy works to ensure that none of these scenarios become realities. In March 2018, the city cited this policy when it refused to refer children to Catholic Social Services (CSS), a city-contracted agency that would not approve same-sex couples to be foster parents. CSS sued, arguing that it would rather close its doors than serve same-sex couples. In doing so, CSS began a legal battle that seeks to place the well-being of vulnerable children below the agency's right to discriminate based on its leaders' religious beliefs.
As a leading child-welfare organization with more than 40 years of work in adoption and foster care-related issues, the North American Council on Adoptable Children is all too familiar with one, simple truth: Intolerant practices harm children in care.
Right now, the country faces a shortage of foster families to care for children who aren't able to remain safely at home. With same-sex couples being six times more likely than different-sex couples to raise children in foster care and decades of research affirming the parenting abilities of lesbian and gay individuals and couples, Philadelphia's nondiscrimination policy opens the door to these qualified, loving families, increasing the number of homes available for children in care.
Discrimination at the hands of one agency has a significant trickle-down effect beyond its own walls, leaving prospective parents feeling discouraged and unwanted. Turning away these parents also strips LGBTQ+ youth in foster care — many of whom have been separated from their birth families because of who they are and who face higher rates of negative outcomes because of intolerance — of the opportunity to grow and thrive in families that are open, safe, and uniquely equipped with an understanding of their identity. Discriminatory policies like these communicate to young people that LGBTQ+ identities are cloaked in shame and stigma.
The debate in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia is not about religious freedom, nor is it about what is in the child-welfare provider's best interest; it is about the right of every child to have a safe, loving, permanent, and culturally competent family that reflects the varied fabric of our society.
Like many other child-welfare organizations across the country, NACAC supports the City of Philadelphia's decision not to fund discriminatory practices. For years, we have seen the amazing impact of LGBTQ+ parents, and we know that affirming young people's LGBTQ+ identities saves lives. By rejecting CSS' appeal, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals would maintain the central tenants of child-welfare policy and practice: Value a child's well-being above all else and ensure their right to a safe, loving family.
Anna Libertin is a communications specialist at North American Council on Adoptable Children. Mary Boo is the organization's executive director.