Last week, Julián Castro announced the Child First plan, a new policy proposal to end state-sponsored discrimination against LGBTQ families. In this plan, the Democratic presidential candidate and former housing secretary said he would move immediately to prohibit federally funded foster care and adoption agencies from discriminating against LGBTQ families and individuals on the basis of faith. Castro also committed to working with Congress to pass the Every Child Deserves a Family Act, bipartisan legislation that would prohibit such discrimination.
On any given day, approximately 450,000 children are in foster care in the United States. The plan zeroes in on a rising threat to the well-being of these children: federal and state governments using “religious freedom” grounds to justify discriminatory policies that limit the number of available foster homes.
Last year, Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Carolina joined seven other states that have provisions allowing this kind of federally funded discrimination. The Trump Administration is now reportedly seeking to roll back federal policies that prevent religious organizations from receiving government funding if they discriminate against otherwise qualified LGBTQ prospective adoptive or foster parents. Meanwhile, only five states have non-discrimination laws that expressly protect persons based on their sexual orientation or gender identity who are seeking to foster children.
As members of the Interfaith Coalition for Children’s Rights, we are encouraged by former Secretary Castro’s proposal to “put children first.” Our coalition, comprised of interfaith leaders and the national advocacy organization Children’s Rights, opposes legislation and policy changes that harm children in foster care. That includes laws that enable discrimination against LGBTQ, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim individuals and families. As faith leaders and child welfare advocates, we must stand up not only for our most vulnerable children, but also for those who step forward to care for and protect them.
Our faith traditions teach us that all people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, and that we should extend a helping hand to those less fortunate among us. Certainly, faith-based foster care agencies play a critical role in providing care and placement for thousands of foster children nationwide. But no agency has the right to discriminate on the basis of faith.
At a time when there is already a severe shortage of foster homes nationwide, federal and state policies should encourage placing children with safe and loving families – period. A wealth of recent media coverage shows that this shortage of foster homes has a negative impact on children around the country, from Georgia and Tennessee to Nevada and California. Given this lack of homes, many young people end up in overburdened institutions that simply cannot meet their needs or provide the support that a family home could. Preventing LGBTQ individuals from welcoming a foster child into their lives further strains an already overwhelmed system.
This is particularly true because, according to 2018 research by the Williams Institute, one in five same-sex couples (21.4 percent) are raising adopted children compared to just 3 percent of different-sex couples, and 2.9 percent of same-sex couples have foster children compared to 0.4 percent of different-sex couples. Furthermore, there is a specific need for foster care policies and families that support children who identify as LGBTQ, as children in these communities are at a higher risk of experiencing violence, rejection, and trauma. This exacerbates the challenges that foster children – many of whom have experienced physical and sexual abuse, familial drug addiction, and severed family connections – already face.
We must always treat others with compassion and dignity. Placing foster children in safe and loving homes is what our federally funded child welfare providers should be focused on. As a nation, we must commit to putting children first.