Tax dollars could soon go to religion-specific foster care agencies

Andy Delony and Brendan Robert and their family (KXAN Photo)
Andy Delony and Brendan Robert and their family (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — In the midst of a shortage of Foster parents, Texas lawmakers will decide this week whether to allow state-funded adoption and foster care agencies to refuse services based on religious beliefs.

HB 3859, by Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, will be debated this week on the Texas House floor and faith based groups say they need it. Many families have strong views on traditional marriage, abortion and vaccinations and current state law doesn’t always agree with them. Can the state give tax dollars to groups that only work with a certain religious view point?

“We shouldn’t be asked to check our faith at the door in order to serve,” said Jennifer Allmon, executive director of the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops. They want state funding to help put Catholic children in Catholic homes across Texas.

“The best interest of a child is to be placed in a home that mirrors their cultural and religious identity. That’s clear. This bill makes sure there are the right amount of homes for the diversity of Texas,” said Allmon.

Some important context here is Texas needs parents. One out of four kids in the child welfare system is waiting placement. That’s 7,000 children.

“It says I as a provider get to put my thoughts and feelings above you as a child and again, that’s just not how our child welfare system is supposed to work,” said Will Francis with the National Association of Social Workers. He says his biggest concern is these agencies would get your tax dollars.

“So to say I will and won’t follow certain laws is really concerning to us,” said Francis.

Bill wouldn’t impact current adoptions or fosters

Andy Delony and Brendan Robert have successfully adopted four siblings into their family.

“We have seen them grow from kids who were having a difficult time managing anything in their lives to kids that are now doing wonderfully great things,” said Delony.

But they worry future parents like them will have fewer choices of services than straight parents if this bill becomes law.

“[It] makes it more difficult to do the job that we’re already struggling to do as a society, which is to look out for the kids,” said Robert.

The state says they need more families to adopt like Andy and Brendan, but it’s unclear if this proposal would bring more parents or turn them away.

We just had this debate

It’s worth noting this bill would have violated the old “Bill of Rights” for youth in Texas Foster Care. But the Department of Family and Protective Services changed the language earlier this year.

Clause 5 used to read: “I have the right to fair treatment, whatever my gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, disability, medical problems, or sexual orientation.”

In February, the words “gender identity” and “sexual orientation” were removed.  It’s been shortened again to: “I have the right to ‘be treated fairly.'”

Clause 11 — on religion — once promised foster children a choice to practice or “not to practice.” It’s been shortened to one line: to “have religious needs met.” In February, a DFPS spokesperson told KXAN: “The language was modified so that it would be consistent with the standards that we have established for the care and treatment of foster children.”

The agency denied knowledge of any “political motivation” for the changes.

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