Attorney says religious-based foster care agency getting federal funds is unfair to foster families
COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - The federal government recently agreed to allow a foster care agency in Greenville to reject foster parents based on their religious beliefs or sexual orientation despite the fact that the agency received federal funding. Now, some advocates for children’s rights say this could hurt children in foster care from getting qualified prospective parents.
Greenville’s Miracle Hill Ministries is a religious-based group, but they also receive federal funding- which is why some are taking issue with the ministry denying their services to certain groups of people.
A regulation from the Obama administration prevents publicly funded foster care agencies from serving any specific religion, but Governor Henry McMaster requested a waiver, saying in a statement that Americans have a fundamental right to practice religion.
The U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services granted that waiver in January, allowing Miracle Hill to continue denying services based on religion or sexual orientation, but opponents say allowing a taxpayer-funded agency to discriminate against certain groups is unfair.
Sue Berkowitz is the director of the SC Appleseed Legal Justice Center and an advocate for the rights of children in foster care. She says, “Part of the problem is going to be recruiting foster families, finding appropriate foster families. It’s a very difficult process right now, anyways, and the concern we have is, one, that it is discriminating against families who could be absolutely wonderful, proper foster families, and it can also hurt the ability to get where we need to be with having foster families. We want to make sure that all families have the opportunity – if they’re a good, loving family they should have the ability to be a foster family.”
Berkowitz fears the waiver will be a barrier for, “people who are loving, nurturing folks who want to be foster parents and that they may not be able to participate through a program that’s getting federal dollars to license them and allow them to be available to have children placed with them – we’re allowing individuals or organizations that get federal dollars to discriminate. Should we be allowing federal dollars to be used to discriminate against any individual because they may worship differently than the organization that’s getting the money?”
Miracle Hill Ministries responded in a statement saying:
“No one at Miracle Hill believes a family’s religious beliefs should determine whether or not they can be foster parents. In fact, we have helped many parents who do not share our beliefs find other agencies and groups that can help them become foster parents. Our goal as a Christian ministry is simply to partner with those who share our beliefs. We specialize in recruiting foster families from within the Protestant, Christian community.”
The waiver does require that any foster family who is turned away from Miracle Hill Ministries must be referred to other foster care agencies.
Miracle Hill Ministries is said to be responsible for 15% of foster care placements in the state.
Copyright 2019 WIS. All rights reserved.