Statement from Youth Fostering Change Opposing Actions to Discriminate Against Caregivers and Youth in the Child Welfare System
Youth Fostering Change is an advocacy group at Juvenile Law Center for youth and young adults who have experience in the child welfare system. Youth Fostering Change works collectively to raise awareness on issues that youth face in the child welfare system and develops campaigns and tools to improve the experiences of youth in foster care. We work to ensure that youth in the child welfare system are safe, have their needs met, and are given the opportunity to thrive.
We oppose any actions that are taken that allow discrimination to be part of the child welfare system and believe that allowing discrimination at any level harms children and youth.
On January 23, 2019, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) granted special permission called a waiver to federally-funded child welfare contract agencies in South Carolina to discriminate against prospective foster and adoptive parents based on the agency’s religious beliefs. This waiver was granted at the request of South Carolina’s Governor Henry McMaster, who asked that taxpayer-funded agencies contracted with the State to provide federally-reimbursed child welfare services be exempted from federal rules prohibiting discrimination. The waiver would allow the agencies to work only with families who meet their religious requirements.
By granting the waiver, the Trump administration is sanctioning taxpayer-funded discrimination by organizations providing a government service. Current federal policy prohibits agencies that receive federal child welfare funds from discriminating based on several factors, including religion.
Youth Fostering Change strongly opposes any actions or policies that allow child welfare agencies and providers to discriminate against foster parents and adoptive parents based on race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation. We believe that no person should be discriminated against for any reason.
We recognize that this waiver attempts to be inclusive of faith-based agencies and foster and adoptive parents. However, we believe “religious refusal” policies that allow the exclusion of religious groups will open the door for further exclusion and discrimination of people who are eligible, caring and willing foster and adoptive parents. We believe this will further reduce the numbers of foster parents willing to care for and adopt children.
Nationally there are over 438,000 children and youth in foster care. If there are fewer homes, how can there be enough loving, permanent homes for foster youth? With the constant challenge to recruit and sustain good foster homes, this waiver will roll back efforts to increase permanency for youth in the foster care system by reducing the number of diverse and appropriate supportive families for foster children and youth.
Having a diverse pool of foster and adoptive parents is good for youth. For us, when we were placed with families who looked like us, or who supported our individual beliefs and allowed for us to learn and grow, we did well. Limiting the number of placements that would otherwise be available for youth in care is damaging. It risks us not having the caregivers we need and puts us at risk for being placed in group care because there are not enough foster homes.
Allowing discrimination in the child welfare system negatively impacts how youth are treated. Some of us have personally faced discrimination when we were in foster homes because of our religion, skin color and sexual orientation. These experiences caused us great harm and trauma, some of which we are still going through. We felt alone and were unsure if we could report the discrimination, and many of us stopped trusting adults out of fear it would happen again. We DO NOT want other youth to experience some of the things we and our peers experienced. We believe this waiver and others like it would allow for discrimination to happen against youth in the foster care system and would further create unsafe environments for youth. This kind of discrimination could also cause youth to run away from homes, experience homelessness and be exposed to more dangers.
Knowing that each year 20,000 youth age out of care without permanent connections, we believe implementing these waivers will increase this number. We already experience so much trauma going into the system. Putting us at risk for not having family-based care or living in homes that do not accept or respect us only further damages our physical and emotional health.
For these reasons, Youth Fostering Change opposes the waiver granted by the Trump administration and any other actions that allow discrimination to exist at any level in the child welfare system. Youth Fostering Change strongly believes that discrimination in any form should be prohibited. Federal or state funded child welfare agencies are obligated to provide programs and services designed to protect children and youth and to place children and youth in safe, supportive environments. Discrimination is at odds with the very mission of the child welfare system and goes against our own policies and efforts as a nation to ensure that EVERY child has a loving, permanent family.