May is Foster Care Awareness Month, and the people of Kansas and Oklahoma just did something wonderful for the most vulnerable children in their states. They passed bills that protect the ability of all agencies, including faith-based ones to recruit foster families. Today, more than 437,000 kids are in foster care and 100,000 are eligible for adoption. Congress and the Trump administration should encourage all child welfare providers to recruit more loving families to embrace these kids.
The opioid crisis has impacted not just the adults who become addicted, but also the kids they can no longer care for. With an average of 116 Americans dying each day from drug abuse driving 92,000 children into foster care, Congress must act now. The bills in Oklahoma and Kansas should not have been needed. Faith-based child welfare agencies are among the most well established and highest performing in the nation.
But politicians forced Catholic Charities in Massachusetts, California, and the District of Columbia, out of their child welfare systems because they place every kid with both a mom and a dad. In Illinois, this caused the displacement of more than 2,000 children. Now activist law firms on the left, the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal, are trying to overturn laws in Michigan and Texas that protect the freedom of these agencies to operate on their beliefs.
Foster children and families are not going to let these agencies disappear. In the words of Shamber Flore, who was “exposed to gangs, prostitution, drugs, and abuse before most kids learn their ABCs,” St. Vincent Catholic Charities saved her life. The agency excels at finding homes for sibling groups, older children, minority children, and those with special needs. Becket, the law firm that represents Shamber, points out that having as many qualified agencies in Michigan as possible benefits children because it increases the likelihood of more permanent child placements.
In Michigan, the couple who sued had to drive past four adoption agencies that share their beliefs to get to St. Vincent Catholic Charities. Their insistence on making a Catholic adoption agency work with them is a “self-inflicted obstacle” that came about because of ideology, not what is best for kids. Adoptive mom Melissa Buck says the lawsuit scores “cheap political points at the expense of children.”
At the State of the Union, President Trump recognized that drug addiction hurts children. He praised police officer Ryan Holets and his wife for adopting a baby born to a mom with heroin addiction. He said the Holets family embodies the nation’s goodness. He could have been describing the many families, faith communities, and faith-based agencies who have stepped into care for traumatized children.
Earlier this month, the president took an important step to support faith-based organizations by issuing an executive order establishing a White House Faith and Opportunity Initiative. He understood that their capacity that often exceeds that of government.” In child welfare, 80 percent of prospective foster parents who train with public agencies to foster children drop out in the first two years. According to Chuck Johnson, president of National Council for Adoption, the 20 percent who persevere are often motivated by their faith to care for a child.
Yet, the communities that were represented in the Rose Garden signing ceremony are under attack. Philadelphia has suspended cooperation with both Catholic Charities and Bethany Christian Services, one of the largest child welfare agencies in the nation. President Trump ordered that burdens on faith-based agencies be reduced, but the left is adding burdens that could force the entire child welfare system to collapse.
Oklahomans saw the 55 percent rise of children in foster care waiting for adoption over the last four years and the strong relationship between overdose deaths and foster care entry rates. They realized how the drug crisis is hurting kids. The president knows that heroic Americans across the country are stepping up to serve these kids.
Now the agencies that connect kids with “forever families” need help. In Congress, Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) introduced the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act to protect faith-based agencies from being discriminated against for their beliefs.
With so many children still in foster care and drug overdose deathscontinuing to rise, there is more to be done. Congress and the administration can do what Kansans and Oklahomans did by acting to protect those who serve kids in their greatest time of need.
This piece originally appeared in The Hill on May 21, 2018.