Since Illinois passed a law creating same-sex civil unions this year, faith-based groups that place children into foster care homes have increasingly found themselves left out in the cold.
Last week, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) informed the Evangelical Child and Family Agency (ECFA) — a 61-year-old group that has been contracting with the state to place foster children in homes since 1965 — that its contract will not be renewed in the new fiscal year, since the agency won’t place kids with same-sex couples.
ECFA is one of several faith-based groups that have had to make such a choice this year. Like Lutheran Child and Family Services, ECFA’s policy is to only place foster children with married couples; another group announced this summer it would change its policy in order to continue contracting with the state. Catholic Charities has chosen to fight the matter in court, but has not met with success so far. The civil unions law took effect on June 1.
“They’re saying all agencies that contract with DCFS need to be an ‘agent of the state,’” said ECFA Executive Director Ken Withrow. “Til now, the understanding was that we would be partners with the state — in our case, recruiting evangelicals to become foster care parents.”
Though DCFS cited the state’s civil unions law to ECFA, Withrow said it’s just a cover.
“We tend to disagree with that, because the act says nothing in it will interfere with religious organizations. They prefer only to contract with secular agencies,” he explained.
As a result, ECFA will lose 75 percent of its funding. Withrow hopes that his caseworkers will be able to transfer to new agencies with their case loads by the end of September, as the state has ordered.
“It would be ideal because of their knowledge of the cases,” he said. “We’re moving kids to permanency, and you have to have a knowledgeable case worker to do that for the children.”
ECFA will continue its non-state-funded activities: Providing pregnancy support services, individual and family counseling, licensing foster and adoptive parents, and privately placing kids who are not in state custody in foster homes.
“We’re not quitting, and we don’t hold any animosity toward anyone,” Withrow said. “We’re just trying to be the hands and feet of Christ, but it’s not our decision what the state will do.”
Tammy Schulz, an Oak Park mother whose four adopted children came to her as foster care cases through ECFA, said the trend smacks of religious discrimination.
“They’ve been blatant about their evangelical Christian beliefs and have a great track record,” she said. “Why else would they do this to a group that’s worked with the state for 45 years?”
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Read more about Illinois civil unions.
Update (Oct. 10, 2011) : ECFA has officially lost 69 percent of its total funding, as opposed to the projected total of 75 percent as first reported.