(Photo via facebook.com/phillyfamilypride)
What does a child grow up to become?
“An adult” might seem like an easy answer, but this relates to a key argument playing out in a case between the City of Philadelphia and Catholic Social Services (CSS) over CSS’s policy to not place children with LGBTQ prospective foster parents amidst a crisis-level need for foster parents in the city.
In his expert testimony in the case, Frank Cervone, executive director of the Support Center for Child Advocates (SCCA), noted that refusing LGBTQ foster parents sends a confusing and hurtful message to the LGBTQ youth that are in foster care.
In an interview, Cervone summed up the point: “We have no idea how many, if any, of the CSS foster kids have identified as LGBT youth. But whether it’s CSS kids or other kids who are identified in this way … many of them, I assume, envision growing up to be LGBT adults. And thus, probably many of them also aspire to be in a permanent relationship. Maybe in a same-sex marriage.”
That’s where children growing up and receiving mixed messages becomes important in SCCA’s argument.
“What would we be telling them about their life future if CSS were allowed to say that that future path is not one that is valid or acceptable?” Cervone said. “So the system has to tell kids in all sorts of ways that you are valuable and that your future is important to us, and that we all want to help you get there.”
"A very dangerous message is being given to the LGBTQ children in care with the agency that they, too, are unwanted."
Sarah Wasch, program manager of the Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice and Research at the University of Pennsylvania made a similar point in an interview about LGBTQ youth, who are overrepresented in foster care.
“When a foster care agency publicly refuses to provide service to some LGBTQ individuals in the form of denying foster parent applications, a very dangerous message is being given to the LGBTQ children in care with the agency that they, too, are unwanted,” she said.
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In the ongoing court battle, questions of religious liberty and anti-discrimination in the foster care system are on trial.
After the city suspended the foster care placement contracts of CSS for its policy of turning away prospective LGBTQ resource parents, CSS and three of its foster parents sued the city to resume its contracts and award damages.
The conflict between the city and CSS followed a report in the Philadelphia Inquirer in March that CSS was one of two foster care agencies that wouldn’t work with LGBTQ people or same-sex couples interested in becoming resource parents; the other was Bethany Christian Services (BCS). There are 10 total contracted agencies dealing with child welfare in Philadelphia.
The case, Fulton et al. v. City of Philadelphia, is now in front of a federal judge. While CSS is arguing that the city violated its religious liberties in cutting off its contracts, lawyers for the city are pointing to its Fair Practices Ordinance, which bars municipal contractors from discriminating on a number of factors, including sex, gender identity and sexual orientation.
Philadelphia Department of Human Services has reopened foster care intake for BCS, effective today, writing in a press release that the agency has agreed to comply with the Fair Practices Ordinance:
“Bethany Christian Services of the Greater Delaware Valley took timely initiative to adopt a new non-discrimination policy and, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs, to train their staff on cultural competency for serving individuals and same sex couples who are LGBTQ. We are encouraged that by complying with the Fair Practices Ordinance, Bethany Christian Services of the Greater Delaware Valley affirm their ability to provide foster care services in a non-discriminatory way.
(BCS is also under fire this month for its connections to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos while placing immigrant children who were forcibly separated from their parents while cross the U.S. border with American foster parents.)
Cervone said in his testimony against CSS that a system that allows cases of discrimination against prospective LGBTQ resource parents could discourage these prospective participants from coming forward at all.
“Were the child welfare system allowed to accept this form of discrimination as a religious right, as a religious liberty, I think many of these potential resource parents will not come forward. They will not want to serve in the system at all,” he said.
"We’re actively recruiting individuals that represent the diversity of our city."
But while the case plays out, the city is still sending a message to prospective resource parents who are LGBTQ: “We want you.”
The city has been hosting, in partnership with other agencies and nonprofits, LGBTQ foster parent recruitment events since October 2017, according to Amber Hikes, executive director of the Office of LGBT Affairs.
“We’re actively recruiting individuals that represent the diversity of our city, including diversity of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religions and communities to provide quality foster care to Philadelphia’s most vulnerable children and youth,” Hikes said.
Stephanie Haynes, executive director of Philadelphia Family Pride, whose organization partnered with the office to put on these events, described what happens at a recruitment session.
“Representatives from several foster agencies shared information about the basics: the requirements for becoming a foster parent, the steps in the process, and a general overview how DHS and CUAs work to help demystify the process,” she said. “We also had current LGBT foster parents come and share their experiences and answer questions from those in attendance.”
The city’s next LGBTQ foster parent info session will be held Aug. 16 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Penn LGBT Center; call the Department of Human Services at 215-683-5709 to learn more.
On Friday, July 13, CSS’s discrimination claim was denied in federal court. Per Philly.com:
“U.S. District Court Judge Petrese B. Tucker found that the city did not violate the religious liberties of Catholic Social Services (CSS) when it suspended its contract with the agency for foster-care services after discovering that the agency would not work with same-sex couples.”
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