For decades, the government has relied on private child-welfare providers, including faith-based agencies (FBAs), to help care for children in foster care. There are about 440,000 children in care right now, about a quarter of whom are waiting for adoption. In places like Illinois, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, some FBAs have been forced to shut their doors because of their faith. Eighty members of Congress penned a letter on May 23 to President Trump urging him to protect faith-based child welfare providers. The future of FBAs in Michigan and Philadelphia are currently under threat.
The letter states:
“Child neglect, abuse, and abandonment are being fueled by the ongoing opioid epidemic, yet as more children are entering the foster care system we have fewer families available to provide safe and loving homes for them. …
“We cannot allow history to repeat itself and shut out faith-based agencies doing crucial and quality work. Too much is at stake to place politics above the needs of our nation’s most vulnerable children. Members of Congress are working to develop legislative solutions. But this issue is so important that all branches of government must take responsible action.”
On May 18, Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer signed into a law a bill that would allow faith-based child welfare providers to continue serving vulnerable children and families in accordance with their sincerely held religious beliefs. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed a similar law on May 11. They join the ranks of seven other states that, over the last few years, have proactively protected FBAs that provide foster care and adoption services.
A lawsuit by the ACLU in Michigan — a state which currently protects FBAs — wants the state to stop allowing FBAs exemption from regulations that conflict with their faith. If the ACLU wins out, organizations like Catholic Charities would likely not be able to continue providing their services to vulnerable children.
My new report out for the Heritage Foundation looks at the important role of faith-based agencies (FBAs) in the child-welfare system. It also lays out what states would lose if many FBAs had to end their foster care and adoption services over regulations that conflicted with their sincerely held beliefs.
With a population of 325 million people — Hispanics, Christians, Asians, atheists, whites, Muslims, African Americans, Buddhists, Native Americans (and too many other religions, races, and ethnicities to list) — across 3,000 counties and two billion acres of intensely varied geography, the United States represents an incredibly diverse community. This is mirrored in a diverse set of providers that deliver human services to families across the nation, including foster and adoptive services. There are public, private, faith-based, and secular child-welfare agencies. They all abide by regulations and requirements set by their states, to ensure a certain standard of care for the children they serve. They all do important work. With the growing foster care and adoption needs of the country, there is plenty of room for all these agencies to roll up their sleeves and work together.
Forcing agencies out because of their faith leaves other agencies to absorb their caseloads — requiring more caseworkers, more foster families to recruit and train, and more resources to serve these additional children. That is especially tough when many agencies are already staggering under the influx of children into foster care over the last five years.
While nationwide the number of children in foster care has increased by 10 percent from 2012 to 2016, several states saw growth of over 50 percent in that time, like Georgia, Minnesota, Mississippi, and New Hampshire. The number of kids in care waiting for adoption increased 15 percent nationwide from 2012 to 2016. One of the primary driving factors in this increase is the opioid crisis — which has only continued to worsen.
This has increased the number of foster homes needed. However, many states have actually seen their foster-home capacity decrease over the last few years — either because their number of foster homes is going down, or because the number of foster homes isn’t increasing fast enough to keep up with the growing numbers of children in foster care. People of faith are more likely to step forward for this role. Research has found that practicing Christians are much more likely to adopt and foster, or even consider fostering, compared to the general population.
There are also many examples of faith-based organizations and networks that excel at recruiting foster parents. The CALL in Arkansas helped recruit almost half the state’s foster families. Focus on the Family helped cut in half the number of children in Colorado waiting to be adopted. These are just two instances. Sometimes FBAs also do a better job at finding forever homes for populations that are traditionally harder to place, such as sibling groups and older youth. For example, 45 percent of all Catholic Charities adoptions were children with special needs in 2016.
FBAs are valuable partners for states and can help prevent children from languishing in care or aging out of the system without a permanent family. In a time of great need when there is a shortage of foster and adoptive families in many places, states that are looking to take full advantage of their local resources should embrace their faith communities. Likewise, faith networks and organizations should increase their efforts and commitment to families in need and help ensure that every child has a loving home.