Florida's adoption & foster care system in danger, thousands of children vulnerable

by Joni B. Hannigan |

(Florida Baptist Children's Homes)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (Christian Examiner) -- Adoption and foster care in Florida are on the verge of collapse if efforts by some lawmakers to provide "conscience protections" to faith-based and private agencies fail.

"There is no more dancing around the issue. Faith-based organizations are critical to thousands of children."
- Bill Bunkley, President, FERLC

"There is no more dancing around the issue," Bill Bunkley, head of Florida's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission told Christian Examiner. "Faith-based organizations are critical to thousands of children."

Some estimates say more than half the children in Florida's foster care system are served through faith-based and private agencies.

Jerry Haag, president, Florida Baptist Children's Homes

As House Bill 7111 makes it way through the Florida legislature, at stake are tens of thousands of children being cared for through organizations like Catholic Charities and Florida Baptist Children's Homes which coordinates adoptions and provides training, group homes, and community living for foster parents and children -- in addition to its other ministries.

Jerry Haag, president of Florida Baptist Children's Homes, told the Examiner FBCH impacted 106,000 children and families in need through Christ centered services last year alone.

"The conscience protection bill is a fantastic solution to making sure faith-based organizations can continue dire care for children throughout the state of Florida," Haag said. "For us, it means assurance we can help 106,000 more children this year and after as we remain committed to our founding beliefs."

A similar new bill Congress introduced March 4 would prohibit government discrimination against faith-based and adoption care organizations not willing to place children with same-sex couples, according to a story in Baptist Press.

The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act acknowledges that four states – California, Illinois, Massachusettts, and the District of Columbia – already are reeling from the effect of faith-based organizations that have stopped providing services prompted by a lack of protection legislation. In Boston, for instance, Catholic Charities in 2006 ended its 100-year-old organization of foster care and adoption.

Answering charges that "conscience protection" allows such organizations to legally discriminate against some, Bunkley said Florida's bill codifies practices that are already in existence in the state, practices that "protect the moral beliefs of our faith organizations."

The bill is designed to protect child-placement agencies from violating their "religious or moral convictions."

It follows last week's vote by the Florida legislature to remove language banning gay adoption in Florida, a practice some have said has been in effect for five years through public agencies since one lone judge challenged the constitutionality of banning homosexual adoption -- a law that has been written in state statues -- and something the Florida Supreme Court has never addressed.

RELATED STORIES:

'Conscience Protection' for adoption agencies passes Florida House committee

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