The City Of Philadelphia Cut Ties With A Religious-Based Foster Agency And Now Dozens Of Children Are In Limbo

Nicole Russell | Contributor

A foster child with special needs has been living without a permanent home for several weeks now, due to the city of Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services (DHS) new policy to sever state referrals to Catholic Social Services because of their religious beliefs.

That’s according to a declaration by the child’s former foster mother in a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Easter District of Pennsylvania.

Since May 25, DHS has not allowed the child named in this brief, “Doe Foster Child #1” (Child), to reconnect with his former foster mother, “Doe Foster Mother 1” (Mother), because she fosters children through Catholic Social Services, according to the declaration. The city announced in March it would no longer partner with CSS or Bethany Christian Services to pair children with foster parents because the agencies decline to place children with same-sex couples.

Philly’s DHS believes a partnership with CSS would contradict its anti-discrimination municipal ordinance. CSS says it has never in more than 50 years received an official complaint about its religious beliefs nor has it been accused of discrimination. No same-sex couple has ever approached CSS for foster placement of a child. If a same-sex couple wanted to foster through the group, it would simply refer them to any number of other agencies in the nearby area.

“When Doe Foster Child #1 lived in our home, he was thriving and he felt safe and loved,” the former foster mother said in the declaration.

She said that he has not been receiving therapy for autism. “Doe Foster Child #1’s school called me to ask why Doe Foster Child #1 had not been attending his special classes and receiving therapy,” the mother claims.

The declaration provides a brief summary of the child’s turbulent journey so far. The mother has fostered 14 children over eight years and had gotten to know this particular child’s likes, dislikes, how he eats his food, and which foods he prefers, as well as was committed to facilitating his therapy for autism. Though the mother had expressed interest in adopting him, she was unable to immediately, and when another family became available, he was transferred to that family. Though she was upset, soon after that, due to an emergency situation with the new family, the child had to be removed. A social worker again approached the mother about adopting. Without hesitation, the mother said yes.

At this point, though the foster mother and social worker were working together to place the child in her home, a stable environment where his special needs could be met, according to the submitted declaration, “DHS denied the request to place Doe Foster Child #1 with me because I work with CSS.” She was devastated especially because “[t]he social worker said that the only option they had for Doe Foster Child #1 was a temporary respite home.”

Attorneys at the nonprofit Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed a temporary restraining order because it says the policy is preventing at least 26 other children from being placed in a home through CSS.

A hearing is scheduled for June 18 to determine what’s at stake and how this policy will continue to affect the numerous foster children that go through CSS doors annually and simply need a home.

“Because of the City’s policy, this child languished in a temporary respite home for weeks,” said Lori Windham, senior counsel at Becket. “The City refuses to remove the policy that harmed this child and that continues to threaten children across the City. In a hearing on June 18, Becket will seek urgent relief to prevent the City from continuing these harmful actions.”

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