At the end of his trip to Manila earlier this year, Pope Francis called for members of society to strengthen family life and “to see each child as a gift to be welcomed, cherished and protected.”
Sadly, many of Michigan’s children are waiting to be welcomed into a family that will care for them, with over 13,000 in the foster care system at any given time. According to the Michigan Department of Human Services, nearly 300 of the 3,000 boys and girls who are available for adoption do not yet have an identified adoptive family.
In order to serve the vast number of children in need, the State of Michigan for well over 50 years has maintained a highly effective partnership with private agencies, including those that are faith-based. Together, all have worked tirelessly to provide adoption or foster care services, to recruit quality families, and to ensure that the best interests of the child are being met. Because the State partners with a diverse array of agencies, instead of adopting a one-size fits all approach, parents considering placing their children for adoption have excellent options to choose from that are consistent with their own beliefs. Additionally, each agency can reach out to their communities in different ways to bring in more potential “Forever Families.” The current system works, and it has worked well for over half of a century.
In a previous column from 2013, I addressed the need for legislation that would protect the right of faith-based adoption and foster care agencies to serve Michigan’s children while maintaining their religious beliefs. Similar legislation has recently been introduced by State Representatives Andrea LaFontaine (R-Columbus Township), Harvey Santana (D-Detroit), and Eric Leutheuser (R-Hillsdale), which recently passed the Michigan House of Representatives with bipartisan support. House Bills 4188-4190 ensure faith-based agencies continue to partner with the State of Michigan to work on behalf of vulnerable children.
Unfortunately, since 2006, several other states or cities have given religious agencies the untenable choice of providing services contrary to their religious teaching or terminating their services. Over the past nine years, Catholic Charities agencies in San Francisco, Boston, Washington D.C., and Illinois have lost the valuable services of their Catholic adoption agencies as a result. After the experiences of faith-based agencies in other states, we must ask, “why would limiting the number of quality child placement providers be beneficial to children?” The answer: it isn’t.
Legislation such as House Bills 4188-4190 are good public policy, for children and for agencies. At the federal level, a similar measure has been introduced to prevent discrimination from the government against child welfare service providers because of their religious or moral beliefs. The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2015 (H.R. 1299) encourages, rather than limits options for children and provides choices for parents.
After facing abuse, neglect, and abandonment, children in foster care are searching for stable and loving environments. Whether they are in need of a temporary home until they can be reunited safely with their families or they are in need of a permanent placement, all want to be welcomed, cherished, and protected.
Faith-based agencies, like Catholic Charities, should continue to be a part of the solution for our state’s most vulnerable children. While the Michigan House has taken positive action to ensure this partnership remains, further consideration is needed from the Michigan Senate and Governor Snyder before House Bills 4188-4190 can become law. To learn more about these bills and other issues of interest to the Michigan Catholic Conference, please visit www.micatholic.org.