After Philadelphia cut ties with Catholic Social Services because of the organization’s religious teachings on marriage and family, an autistic boy was kept from returning to his foster mother’s home for weeks, causing both great distress. He has just been reunited with his family, who plan to adopt him.
After being yanked from his foster family, the boy spent weeks languishing in temporary homes instead of being returned to his home because of the agency’s religious beliefs. During that time, he didn’t receive the therapy and specialized care he needs. Ultimately the child was returned to his adoptive family after The Becket Fund For Religious Liberty got involved and fought for their reunion. But the city’s new policy, which targets the faith-based organization for its teachings on marriage and family, remains in place, affecting countless other children and parents.
In a written declaration, the woman, known only as “Doe Foster Mother #1,” describes the moment her young son was taken from her home.
I kissed him goodbye and told him how much I loved him. But every time the social worker tried to lead Doe Foster Child #1 out of our home, he would wriggle free and come running back to hold me. Doe Foster Child #1 finally had to be carried crying from our home. I watched from the window in my house as my adult son helped carry Doe Foster Child #1 out. While doing so, my son kept assuring Doe Foster Child #1 that it would be ok, that he would like his new family, and that we would always love him.
Shortly after the boy was removed from Doe Foster Mother #1’s home, she received a call from a social worker informing her that an emergency situation had occurred at boy’s new home and that he and all of the other children living there had been removed from that new home. She was asked if she would like to have the boy back, to which she replied: “Bring my son home.”
Later that same day, she was informed that the city’s Department of Human Services had denied her request because she worked with Catholic Social Services (CSS). Instead, the boy would be shuffled to a temporary respite home then moved to another home at a later date. Autistic children particularly need stability and predictability to feel secure.
The boy’s school recently called the Doe Foster Mother #1 to ask why he had not been attending his special classes and therapy sessions tailored to his needs. A social worker informed the mother that he was having trouble eating and using the restroom in ways that had not been the case before his sudden removal. In her written declaration, the mother said she was worried he was regressing.
“I am worried about his physical and emotional wellbeing right now,” she stated. “I say prayers for his return throughout the day and look at Doe Foster Child #1’s pictures every night. I frequently call his social worker to see if I can do anything to get Doe Foster Child #1 back. I cannot understand why Doe Foster Child #1 is being kept from me.”
You can read the mother’s declaration in full here. The mother and son have since been reunited, but countless other families have been affected by the city’s new policy, which bars the city from referring children in need to CSS. Although the city, like many cities and states right now, has a shortage of homes in which to place needy children, Philadelphia’s anti-religion policy remains in place.
“Because of the City’s policy, this child languished in a temporary respite home for weeks,” said Lori Windham, a senior counsel at The Becket Fund. “Under threat of litigation, the child was finally placed with a family working with Catholic Social Services, but the City refuses to remove the policy that harmed this child and that continues to threaten children across the City.”
Cecilia Paul, who received a “Foster Parent of the Year” award from the city, has fostered 130 children throughout her 40 years as a foster mom. Her home is now empty because of the city’s effective ban on CSS. Throughout her 25 years as a foster mom, Sharonell Fulton has fostered more than 40 children, including children with significant medical needs. Fulton, who is currently fostering two special-needs children, relies on CSS to provide herself and her foster children specialized care and support. You can read more about their stories and others here.
The contract between CSS and the city is set to expire at the end of June. If the city choses not to renew the contract, it is unclear what will happen to the children placed in homes through CSS.
The city put out an urgent request for 300 more families to foster children in March, citing 6,034 children in foster care, kinship care, or group homes citywide. Despite its extreme need for foster families, the city informed Catholic Social Serves that same month it would no longer refer children to them and launched an investigation into faith-based adoption agencies after a same-sex couple alleged a different faith-based adoption agency declined to place children with them.
Not a single LGBTQ couple has filed a complaint against Catholic Social Services, and the organization says it would “not stand in the way of any couple who wished to foster a child in need,” according to a case summary filed by The Becket Fund. CSS places children in homes regardless of a child’s sex, race, or sexual orientation.
In 2017, CSS helped 2,200 children in the Philadelphia area. Throughout the application process, if a family did not meet the organization’s requirements, CSS would refer a family to the 26 other organizations that provide foster care services in Philadelphia, many of which will place children with same-sex couples. In other words, CSS has done nothing that anyone objects to except being affiliated with a politically disfavored religion.
A hearing is set for June 18 to determine whether the city’s policy — which The Becket Fund says unfairly targets faith-based adoption and foster agencies — will remain in place.
“The City allows lots of foster agencies to refer couples elsewhere, for reasons ranging from expertise in health issues to simple location,” Windham said. “In the Philadelphia area, there are agencies that specialize in placing Native American children with Native American homes and in serving LGBT families. In Masterpiece, the Supreme Court made clear that government can’t punish religious groups for behavior it allows for everyone else, but that’s exactly what the City of Philadelphia is doing to Catholic Social Services in this case.”