City Council to investigate two faith-based foster agencies

Catholic Social Services

City Council to investigate two faith-based foster agencies

The City Council unanimously approved a resolution introduced by Council member Cindy Bass calling for an investigation into two faith-based agencies that refuse to accept same-sex couples as foster parents.

The two agencies at issue are Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Bethany Christian Services. Both agencies receive city tax dollars to provide foster-care services for hundreds of local children each year. 

The city’s Department of Human Services has contracted with the agencies for about 20 years — though local officials reportedly were unaware of the agencies’ exclusionary policies until recently.

The two agencies receive an aggregate amount of about $3 million annually in city tax dollars for providing foster-care services to local children, according to published reports.

Bass’s resolution, which passed on March 15, states: “At least two [DHS] providers have policies that prohibit the placement of children with LGBTQ people based on religious principles, although the City of Philadelphia has laws in place to protect its people from discrimination that occurs under the guise of religious freedom.”

Bass chairs City Council’s Committee on Public Health and Human Services, which will hold a public hearing on the controversy. Angela Bowie, senior policy advisor for Bass, said the hearing is expected to be held in June.

The main sponsors of the resolution are Bass, Derek Green, Helen Gym and Cherelle Parker. The co-sponsors are Curtis Jones Jr., Jannie Blackwell, Blondell Reynolds-Brown, William Greenlee, Mark Squilla, David Oh and Kenyatta Johnson. 

Bass’s resolution urges DHS to “conduct a thorough review of its contracts with all of its 26 foster-care agencies to ensure that providers are adhering to anti-discrimination policies as they pertain to the city’s protected classes.”

Council Member Helen Gym told PGN in an email on March 16 that blocking same-sex couples from becoming foster parents “violates existing Philadelphia law under our Fair Practices Ordinance and is grounds for termination of a city contract.”

DHS spokesperson Heather Keafer told PGN: “We welcome the opportunity to discuss our foster-care contracts with City Council.”

“We have closed intake to these [two] organizations, pending investigation by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations,” Keafer said, adding that “once more information is available, a complete assessment of current and future contracting will be made.” A total of 223 children is currently served by foster families licensed by these organizations, the DHS official said.

Council member Bass applauded the “swift” decision to stop foster-care intakes at the two agencies in a statement on March 16. “This move by the city is an example of what happens when government stakeholders work together to create change in the system,” she said.

Amber Hikes, director of the city’s Office of LGBT Affairs, said in a statement: “It’s my understanding that the [City] Law Department and DHS are investigating the facts and how those organizations’ practices comport with their policies. If they are found to have violated the Fair Practices Ordinance or breached their contracts, the city will take appropriate action, because we do not tolerate illegal discrimination. The Office of LGBT Affairs continues to work with DHS to establish an LGBTQ advisory committee and develop policy for agency-wide LGBTQ training.”

Bethany Christian Services, one of the two suspended agencies issued a statement confirming a “faith-based” policy of placing children “with married couples made up of two parents of the opposite sex or, in some cases, individuals. This has been our practice throughout our nearly 75 years of operation and is based on our adherence to what we believe to be foundational Biblical principles. If a couple or individual comes to us with a request for services that does not align with our practices, we provide them with recommendations of other quality agencies that are better aligned to meet their request. States across the country, including Pennsylvania, continue to preserve for faith-based agencies the freedom to be faithful to our convictions while partnering with government agencies in supporting vulnerable children and families in crisis. We are hopeful that lawmakers will continue to honor religious freedom and conscience as they have in the past.”

A spokesperson for Catholic Social Services of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia denied that the agency engages in illegal discrimination.

“CSS is not acting in a discriminatory fashion,” said Kenneth A. Gavin, a spokesperson for Catholic Social Services. “It is acting based upon deeply held religious beliefs and principles. These principles and beliefs are central to Catholic identity and well-known. We do not impose these principles upon other agencies that offer opportunities for potential foster parents, which are many in number. We do expect the ability to operate our programs in a manner that does not impose upon conscience rights.” 

Rue Landau, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, urged people to report alleged discrimination to PCHR.

“The PCHR is working with the City Law Department to review the policies of Bethany Christian Services and Catholic Social Services to determine how they affect the breadth of services provided by the agencies,” Landau said in an email. “Under the Fair Practices Ordinance, Chapter 9-1100 of the Philadelphia Code, it is illegal to discriminate against anyone based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as many other protected categories. This nondiscrimination language is included in all professional service contracts executed with the city. So it is clear that all service providers must abide by the provisions of the Fair Practices Ordinance, which includes providing services in a non-discriminatory manner. Anyone who believes they were discriminated against in Philadelphia should contact the PCHR at 215-686-4670, or [email protected].”

In a related matter, on March 22 at 6 p.m. the Office of LGBT Affairs and Philadelphia Family Pride are co-hosting a recruitment event for LGBT foster parents at the William Way LGBT Center, 1315 Spruce St. The public is invited to attend.

In a related matter, on March 22 at 6 p.m. the Office of LGBT Affairs and Philadelphia Family Pride are co-hosting a recruitment event for LGBT foster parents at the William Way LGBT Center, 1315 Spruce St. The public is invited to attend.

Newsletter Sign-up