WASHINGTON — President Trump has signed an executive order on “Strengthening the Child Welfare System for America’s Children”, which includes text ensuring that faith-based foster and adoption agencies are treated equally in respect to working with local governments to place children with loving forever families.
“Several factors have contributed to the number of children who wait in foster care for extended periods. First, state and local child welfare agencies often do not have robust partnerships with private community organizations, including faith-based organizations,” the order reads, noting that over 400K children are in foster care, and that more than half of those waiting to be adopted have been in the system for at least two years.
“Second, those who step up to be resource families for children in foster care — including kin, guardians, foster parents, and adoptive parents — may lack adequate support,” it outlines. “Third, too often the processes and systems meant to help children and families in crisis have instead created bureaucratic barriers that make it more difficult for these children and families to get the help they need.”
The order laments that an estimated 20,000 young people age out of foster care each year without a family, and many of those subsequently experience homelessness, unemployment and out-of-wedlock pregnancies.
“Children from all backgrounds have the potential to become successful and thriving adults,” it states. “Yet without a committed, loving family that can provide encouragement, stability, and a lifelong connection, some children may never receive the support needed to realize that potential.”
The order directs Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar to submit annual reports to the president on the number of children in foster care and waiting for adoption, as well as to collect information within two years on the number of children who likewise have siblings in foster care and are separated from them, and to report the following year on the extent to which children are kept together and may be adopted together.
“The secretary shall ensure, to the extent consistent with applicable law, that states report to the secretary regarding strategies for coordinating with nongovernmental organizations, including faith-based and community organizations, to recruit and support foster and adoptive families,” it reads.
Azar also must issue guidance to state and local governments on partnering with non-governmental agencies, including faith-based agencies, outlining the best practices to help families so that foster care is not necessary in the first place, recruitment, post-placement support, and assistance for older youth.
“This guidance shall also make clear that faith-based organizations are eligible for partnerships under title IV-E of the Act (42 U.S.C. 670 et seq.), on an equal basis, consistent with the First Amendment to the Constitution,” the order states.
“Within six months of the date of this order, the secretary shall provide guidance to states regarding flexibility in the use of federal funds to support and encourage high-quality legal representation for parents and children, including pre-petition representation, in their efforts to prevent the removal of children from their families, safely reunify children and parents, finalize permanency, and ensure that their voices are heard and their rights are protected,” it also instructs.
As previously reported, the HHS proposed a rule in November that would provide protections for faith-based foster and adoption agencies that otherwise might lose federal grant funds for operating in accordance with their religious convictions.
“The proposed rule represents the Trump Administration’s strong commitment to the rule of law — the Constitution, federal statutes, and Supreme Court decisions. These require that the federal government not infringe on religious freedom in its operation of HHS grant programs and address the impact of regulatory actions on small entities,” HHS stated in a press release.
The U.S. Department of Justice also recently filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in favor of a faith-based foster and adoption agency that lost its child placement relationship with the City of Philadelphia because of its protocol not to place children in the households of unmarried couples, which would include homosexuals. The DoJ believes that the agency was “targeted” by the City and “singled out” for discrimination because of its faith-based policies.
As previously reported, adoption from foster care is virtually free as opposed to private overseas adoptions.