Family court judge worried about foster care bill

Children in home file photo (KXAN photo)
Children in home file photo (KXAN photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A bill that some say will help foster children is moving to the Texas Senate, but critics of the bill say while helping children in need is a good thing, shutting out foster families that don’t fit a certain profile will be detrimental to the cause.

House Bill 3859 by Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, would allow state-funded adoption and foster care agencies to refuse services based on religious beliefs. Judge Darlene Byrne presides over a family court and says this bill is not in the best interest of the children.  Many families have strong views on traditional marriage, abortion and vaccinations and current state law doesn’t always agree with them.

“I have never once had a child tell me that ‘I want to be in a gay home, in a churched home, in a home where two parents that go to church every week or go to temple every week,'” says Byrne, “but what I have had from those kids is ‘I want a home that likes kids.'”

Byrne recently sent an urgent letter stating that the Travis County Region had 150 children sleeping in hotels or Child Protective Services offices because the state did not have enough foster parents.

“I find that this bill benefits those that are churched and I go to church,” says Byrne. “It’s being paid for by taxpayer dollars, by the very people that are not churched and by the very people that are gay and lesbian.”

More than a dozen faith-based organizations say if this bill passes, it will help them place more children.

“What the bill does is allow providers to specialize in their area and if somebody comes to us that we can’t serve for whatever reason, the bill proactively requires referral to the Department of Family and Protective Services,” says Jennifer Allmon with the Texas Catholic Conference of Bishops. “That’s not required under current law. Under current law, any agency any adoption agency can decline to serve anyone and they don’t have to follow through. What this bill does that’s different is it requires us if we can’t serve a family, we provide a referral so that they can engage in the system.”

Last year, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick asked faith-based groups to help with the child crisis in the state. In Texas, about 25 percent of foster providers are faith-based.

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