The last few weeks have seen a worldwide outcry over the treatment of children at the U.S.-Mexico border. Many have been separated from their parents and placed in temporary housing, including foster care.
The U.S. Bishops have been vocal in urging an end to family separation, not only because our faith requires that we speak out to defend human dignity, but also because we have been serving children, including migrants and refugees, for many decades and we recognize families as the building block of our society and community.
Who is taking care of these children and actively helping to reunite them with their families? Along with many partners, Catholic nonprofits have responded to Jesus Christ’s call to serve “the least of these.”
For example, in fiscal 2016, the Safe Passages program run by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services served 2,610 unaccompanied immigrant children who were in the federal government’s custody, providing family reunification services to 2,104 children and families and residential services to 506 children.
Shelters run by faith-based agencies provide all the basic necessities for these kids who are far from home, along with compassion and a spirit of welcome. These agencies frequently place children in loving homes with foster parents who have gone through rigorous background checks in order to care for these children, at least on a temporary basis.
Faith-based agencies often have more direct access to foster homes than do secular agencies because they can recruit generous families through houses of worship in their local community. For example, in Arkansas, The CALL, a Christian nonprofit that partners with hundreds of churches, is responsible for recruiting almost half of the foster homes in the state.
But there are some who seek to stop certain faith-based agencies from performing the critical work of placing foster youth in qualified homes. Several Members of Congress this week argued against a policy that would allow faith-based agencies to continue providing excellent foster care to children. These members are failing to put children’s needs first.
In Philadelphia, we have seen the city suspend domestic foster care placements with Catholic Social Services because of the Catholic Church’s views on marriage. This was even after the city issued an urgent call for more foster homes due to the opioid crisis.
And if some activists have their way, faith-based agencies like Catholic Charities would be forced to stop serving migrant and refugee children crossing the border because these agencies seek to abide by Church teaching when placing kids in stable homes.
At a time when the crisis at the border is worsening, and at a time when the opioid epidemic is driving even more children into foster care, we need all hands on deck to serve kids in need of loving homes.
Research shows that states that are friendlier to working with faith communities and faith-based agencies have been able to increase the number of available foster care homes, compared to states that are more hostile toward faith-based groups.
We must speak up for the children in need and for the freedom to serve these children. It is unacceptable that the government would be allowed to discriminate against a social services provider on account of its religious beliefs.
The Supreme Court held just last year on First Amendment grounds that religious organizations should not be excluded from participating in government programs simply because they are religious.
Fortunately this week, the House Appropriations Committee passed an amendment authored by Representatives Robert AderholtRobert Brown AderholtGroup launches first national ad campaign to celebrate America's 250th anniversary House Democrats call for paid legal representation in immigration court Mo Brooks expresses interest in running for Shelby's Senate seat MORE and Mike KellyGeorge (Mike) Joseph KellyEthics watchdog finds 'substantial' evidence Rep. Malinowski failed to disclose stocks House Ethics panel reviewing Rep. Malinowski's stock trades Lobbying world MORE called the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act — which prohibits government discrimination against faith-based child welfare service providers — in the fisal 2019 Labor/HHS appropriations bill, despite fierce opposition from those who seek to stop agencies from abiding by their religious beliefs or moral convictions.
Excluding faith-based providers harms kids by cutting off agencies that can help them. Instead, let’s work to build capacity by allowing all reputable providers with the expertise and the connections to prospective foster parents to serve children. The Constitution requires no less than equal treatment for faith-based providers.
Joseph Kurtz is the archbishop of Louisville and chair of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee for Religious Liberty.