Today, HRC responded to a decision by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to grant a waiver from federal non-discrimination requirements to South Carolina’s Foster Care Program, which has contracted with a child welfare provider who seeks permission to refuse to serve prospective parents who do not share their religious beliefs, but who wants to continue to receive federal funding to provide those services. South Carolina requested the waiver to allow federal funds to go to a child welfare agency that refused to place children with Jewish families. By granting that waiver, HHS is opening the door to federally-funded discrimination justified by religious belief against any number of prospective parents, including single parents, LGBTQ individuals or same-sex couples, parents who may previously have been divorced, interfaith couples, or people of deep faith that happens to be of another religion.
“Every decision that is made by a provider of child welfare services must be grounded in doing what is the best interest of the child, period. Providing care for these kids is critically important, and too many kids languish in the foster care system because there aren’t enough foster and adoptive parents for each child. Allowing a federal contractor the ability to refuse to work with qualified prospective parents - limiting the pool of prospective parents even further - is directly counter to the best interests of the children waiting for families,” said Cathryn Oakley, HRC State Legislative Director & Senior Counsel. “The federal government has a compelling interest in ensuring federal contractors are providing quality care, and in ensuring that taxpayers aren’t footing the bill for taxpayer-funded discrimination. This waiver is unconscionable, in no small part because it prioritizes federal contractors over kids in need of families.”
Federal law prohibits discrimination in federally-funded programs against foster parents on religious grounds, but ten states permit discrimination by state-licensed foster care organizations against LGBTQ people,same-sex coupless and others if doing so conflicts with the organization’s religious beliefs.
HRC recently released a report, titled Disregarding the Best Interest of the Child: License to Discriminate In Child Welfare Services, detailing the harms of efforts to write anti-LGBTQ discrimination by child welfare agencies into law. Statistics suggest that an estimated two million LGBTQ adults in the U.S. are interested in adoption, but the LGBTQ community often remains an untapped resource when it comes to finding families for children and youth in foster care. The report debunks the myth that having more providers is the key to higher rates of placement in homes; the bottleneck is not the number of providers, but the number of prospective parents. Where providers have ceased to provide services rather than comply with nondiscrimination laws, placement rates did not decrease.significantly as a result.
Further, research consistently shows that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system, as many have been rejected by their families of origin because of their LGBTQ status, and are especially vulnerable to discrimination and mistreatment while in foster care. Granting this waiver will only exacerbate these challenges faced by LGBTQ young people.