For decades, the State of Michigan has partnered with private agencies to provide foster care and adoption services to vulnerable children. Whether a child comes into the foster care system due to neglect, drug abuse, physical or sexual abuse, or another traumatic experience, it is critical they receive support, stability, and the care of a loving household during their time of need. For some, services are needed temporarily until they can reunify with their birth families, but for others, agencies find new forever families. Faith-based organizations have proven again and again that they excel at providing these services, for children and for birth, foster care, and adoptive families.
Michigan’s diverse array of child placement providers has fostered the recruitment of new families, as well as greater outreach into a variety of communities. One agency may not appeal to every prospective foster parent, but together, the range of options encourages greater participation in the system, which ultimately benefits children in need. Of the nearly 13,000 kids in the foster care system, approximately 300 children still need an adoptive family at any given time.
Regrettably, a recent settlement between Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) threatens the state’s diversity in child placement services—especially the work of faith-based agencies—and ultimately, negatively impacts children. The settlement requires the Department of Health and Human Services to end state contracts with agencies if they will not agree to violate their own beliefs about marriage and family. Instead of serving more kids, the settlement will likely cause existing agencies to close, parents to leave the foster care pool, and produce longer waiting times.
In response, Becket—a nonprofit, public interest legal firm—filed a federal lawsuit in the Western District of Michigan on April 15. Buck v. Gordon argues the settlement agreement violates the First Amendment and was intended to stop the State from working with religious agencies. The plaintiffs include St. Vincent Catholic Charities, the parents of five adopted children with special needs, and a former foster child.
Another public interest law group, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), filed a lawsuit on April 24 on behalf of another Catholic agency impacted by the settlement, this time in state court. This new lawsuit, Catholic Charities West Michigan v. Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, asks the court to protect Catholic Charities West Michigan (CCWM) “from being singled out, punished, or disfavored because its religious beliefs.” In fact, CCWM’s Catholic beliefs have been the very motivation for providing excellent services to vulnerable populations in West Michigan, including children and parents.
Michigan Catholic Conference (MCC) applauds the lawsuits on behalf of Catholic agencies, which recognize that the settlement agreement violates a 2015 state law. That law, which MCC championed, was specifically enacted to ensure providers like Catholic Charities could maintain contracts within the state while maintaining their religious beliefs, without fear of retribution.
Allowing faith-based agencies to continue operating in concert with their religious beliefs does not interfere with the work of providers with different convictions. Religious child placement organizations have not prevented individuals from fostering or adopting, as the State makes the ultimate decision on a parent’s fitness. Ultimately, potential adoptive or foster care parents often look to work with an agency that shares their values. They may not enter the process unless they have such comfort. The settlement agreement seeks a “solution” where there is no problem.
Religious agencies have served Michigan well, anchoring communities and families with their loving assistance for decades. MCC hopes this excellent work will be able to continue long into the future, for the benefit of children in need across this state.
The Word from Lansing is a regular column for Catholic news outlets. Through these columns, MCC outlines current advocacy issues of importance to the Conference and discusses the Catholic position and role in the political process. This publication complements the more regular updates provided by MCC’s Catholic Advocacy Network. Michigan Catholic Conference is the official public policy voice of the Catholic Church in this state.