Foster Bill of Rights removes references to fair treatment on sexual orientation

The view from 51st St. Austin of the Texas DFPS complex. (KXAN Photo)
The view from 51st St. Austin of the Texas DFPS complex. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Changes to a Bill of Rights for youth in foster care in Texas remove references to fair treatment based on sexual orientation and gender identity, KXAN has discovered.

A version of the bill on the Department of Family and Protective Services website shows a promise of “Fair Treatment whatever my: gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, disability, medical problems or sexual orientation.”

However, a mirror document that is in a printable form on the same webpage excludes the words “gender identity” and “sexual orientation.” The difference was pointed out by a member of the public who did not wish to be named.

Adrian Gaspar, now 27, says he grew up in foster care. He was aware about a Bill of Rights that promised him fair treatment as a young man who identified as gay. He questions the apparent changes to the printable form of the bill and predicts subtle consequences for youth in care.

“It gives too much leverage to foster caregivers. I experienced it directly. [Even with the existence of the original bill language] I had a foster mother who asked if I believed in Jesus Christ and if I knew that being gay was wrong,” Gaspar said. “I was 16 years old and I knew better to just ignore it, but a lot of youth don’t.”

KXAN has learned a longer declaration on religion that promised foster kids a choice to practice or not to practice has been shortened to a one-line promise to “have religious needs met.

“By removing the previous language and installing the ‘having my religious needs met,’ language [foster youth in care are] being forced to choose some religious need when previously that wasn’t really necessary,” Gasper said.

A DFPS spokesperson wrote in an email, “The language [on religion] was modified so that it would be consistent with the standards that we have established for the care and treatment of foster children.”

Language from the minimum standards on religion:

Subchapter H, Child Rights

748.1101. What Rights does a child in care have?

(3) Living a normal life, including:

(c)  The right to have the child’s religious needs met.

On the other language, DFPS Spokesperson Patrick Crimmins wrote it is still a work in progress.

“The idea, just like on the religion [language] for foster youth, is to make it consistent with the actual state standards for children and youth in foster care. Removing the “sexual orientation” is a step in that direction. Our intent is to change that current phrase: “fair treatment, whatever my gender, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, disability, or medical problems,” to “the right to fair treatment.”

“That matches exactly the minimum residential child care standards, 749.1003: ‘The right to fair treatment,’” wrote Crimmins.

Crimmins also pointed out regardless of what these documents online say, they are for reference and information only, and do not in any way diminish the legal protections for any foster child or youth in care.

KXAN asked if there is a political motivation behind the changes. Crimmins said he did not know of any.

Last May, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick launched a faith-based collaboration to boost the number of foster care families across Texas. As of December 2016, DFPS data show 15,594 kids in foster care statewide, of about 28,000 in CPS care overall.

One of the authors of the Bill of Rights, State Senator Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, responded in an email: “The Foster Care Bill of Rights is an important promise to our young people who we have a legal and an moral responsibility to care for.”

He continued, “When my colleagues and I worked to get the bill of rights to fruition, and it was always in consultation with those who it affects the most — our foster children. I hope that any modifications are made in consultation with our foster youth and former foster youth and respectful of their many diverse backgrounds and beliefs.”

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