Conference trying to protect foster care programs

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Catholic Conference of Illinois is working to educate legislators about the requirements of a bill that would allow church-based child welfare agencies to decline to facilitate adoptions or foster care for couples in civil unions.

The provision — included in an amendment on another human rights bill by Sen. David Koehler (D-Pekin) — was voted down 7-6 by the Senate Executive Committee April 13.

“What this bill does is allows these groups, like Catholic Charities and Evangelical Child and Family Services, to refer applicants to other agencies,” said Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois.

Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston stopped offering adoption and foster care services in 2006 after the state required it to provide services to same-sex couples; Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., stopped providing such services last year after the city recognized same-sex unions.

“Lawmakers are obviously engaged in this issue. We will continue to seek a resolution that allows Catholic Charities to serve thousands of abused and neglected children in Illinois, and we are hopeful that resolution will be supported moving forward,” Gilligan said in a statement.

“This legislation allows Catholic Charities to operate within church teachings, within the law and always with the best interest of the child at the forefront. Those in civil unions will not be prevented from becoming foster or adoptive parents. From Catholic Charities, they will be referred to DCFS or to one of the approximately 50 other private child welfare agencies throughout the state. Our agencies serve thousands of abused and neglected children in Illinois and are constantly rated a top performer by DCFS in providing permanency, stable foster homes and protection from further harm. We simply want to continue.”

The issue has been looming since Gov. Pat Quinn (D-Chicago) signed legislation creating civil unions in January. While the civil union law does not directly mention foster care and adoption, it requires couples who have civil unions to get all the state privileges that would normally apply to married couples.

Up until now, Gilligan said, Catholic Charities agencies have worked on foster care and adoption with either single people or married people. Those who were cohabiting, with a partner of either sex, were not eligible for their programs.

Statewide, about 3,000 of 17,000 foster children are cared for by parents working with religious agencies that would be covered by this bill. However, Catholic Charities of the Archdioceses of Chicago no longer provides foster care services after losing its insurance to do so in 2007.

According to a report posted on the Catholic Charities website, in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2010, the agency placed 15 children in international adoptions and saw 13 international adoptions finalized in the children’s home countries. In the same year, it placed three children in domestic adoptions and finalized six domestic adoptions.