Two states pass laws that put agencies’ beliefs over best interests of children

Imagine an adoption agency keeping a child in a group home despite having a qualified and loving relative willing to adopt them simply because that relative is gay. Now imagine a counselor refusing to offer therapy to a transgender teen in care. Or a child welfare agency turning away a loving, qualified Jewish couple because they are Jewish?

Sound alarmist? It happened in South Carolina and the governor responded by putting the agency’s beliefs over the best interests of vulnerable children the agency. And, governors in two states (Oklahoma and Kansas) just signed laws allowing this to happen. These bills are the first anti-LGBT bills signed this legislative session, and are part of a greater trend to exploit vulnerable children in need of loving homes for political gain.

The reality is that these agencies are receiving taxpayer dollars while continuing to discriminate against children and families. Across the country, nine states have passed these license to discriminate laws that allow adoption and foster care agencies to make decisions for children in their care based on religious beliefs rather than on the best interests of the child.

These laws can hurt kids. Laws like these mean:

  • An agency could refuse to place a child with qualified parents in a loving, forever home, simply because those parents don’t meet the religious litmus test of the agency.
  • An agency could refuse to allow an orphaned child to be adopted by an extended family member like a gay uncle or a lesbian grandparent.
  • An agency could refuse to place LGBT youth with accepting parents, but could instead place them with parents who intend to force them into harmful conversion therapy.
  • An agency could decide to keep a child in a government group home rather than place them with a loving, qualified couple who don’t share the agency’s religious beliefs.

In September 2017, MAP authored a report Kids Pay the Price: How Religious Exemptions for Child Welfare Agencies Harm Children which found that there are nearly 428,000 children in foster care in the United States, over 111,000 of whom are awaiting adoption. Of those children, 53% had been waiting more than two years for a permanent home. Yet adoption discrimination laws protect workers and agencies who reject LGBT and other qualified parents simply because those parents fail to meet the religious criteria imposed by the agency, forcing children to pay the price of discrimination.

MAP is working with advocates on the ground to defeat these bills with adsstrategic, research-based messaging guidance and in-depth policy resources. For more information about MAP’s work to protect children from these dangerous bills, visit www.lgbtmap.org/adoption

Child welfare agencies should put kids first, always. But these kinds of harmful laws give child services workers a license to discriminate and deny children the loving, forever homes they need.