New Federal Rules for Foster Care Could, Critics Say, Rip Apart Families

The proposed plan ‘will harm vulnerable children who need loving homes and set a precedent that undermines everyone’s parental rights,’ an ethicist warns.

AP/Andrew Harnik, file
The health and human services secretary, Xavier Becerra, at a hearing on Capitol Hill April 5, 2022. AP/Andrew Harnik, file

A new rule proposed by the Biden administration aimed at ensuring “safe and proper care” for LGBT children in foster care could, intentionally or not, upend parental and religious freedoms, critics of the new policy are warning. 

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is proposing steps foster care agencies must take to safeguard children from abuse on the basis of their gender identity and expression. The guidelines, set by the department’s Administration for Children and Families, could imperil the ability of parents to foster and adopt children if they fail to affirm their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“The Biden administration’s plan to punish foster parents who do not believe the superstition that a child can somehow be born into the wrong body,” a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Nathanael Blake, tells the Sun, “will harm vulnerable children who need loving homes and set a precedent that undermines everyone’s parental rights.”

Federal law requires that foster care agencies provide “safe and proper care” and support the “health and wellbeing” of children in their systems, the ACF says. The proposed rule would “require agencies to ensure that the totality of their child welfare system includes sufficient placements for LGBT children that meet these standards.” 

The requirements include establishing an environment “free of hostility, mistreatment, or abuse,” though no definitions of what these qualities might look like are offered. Meanwhile, in an environment suitable to the ACF, a provider would “utilize the child’s identified pronouns, chosen name, and allow the child to dress in an age-appropriate manner that the child believes reflects their self-identified gender identity and expression.”

Providers should also be equipped “with the appropriate knowledge and skills” to assist with the sexual orientation and gender identity of LGBT children, who are overrepresented in the foster care system, the ACF says, and face “mistreatment,” “poor treatment,” “rejection,” “stigma,” and “discrimination.” 

These requirements might run afoul of the religious expression of some providers, so the ACF is placing much of the burden on agencies. For providers with faith-based objections to the rules, the ACF says it will consider religious accommodation requests on a “case-by-case basis.” The Supreme Court affirmed in its 2021 Fulton v. City of Philadelphia decision that “the First Amendment protects faith-based entities that provide foster care services.”

The period for written public comments on the proposal, which was announced in late September, ends Monday. The timing, Mr. Blake notes, is “a bureaucratic middle finger to the public it is supposed to serve.” He argues in the Federalist that “the Biden administration is laying the groundwork to destroy families, by taking children away from their parents in order to sterilize and sexually mutilate them.”

The ACF’s move joins calls from the Democratic Party in recent years to separate children from “non-affirming” parents. Last year, a Virginia state representative, Elizabeth Guzman, warned that parents could face felony or misdemeanor charges if they do not affirm their child’s sexual orientation and gender identity.

The latest effort by the Department of Health and Human Services “is grounded on two dangerous and incorrect premises,” another fellow at the EPPC, Rachel Morrison, tells the Sun. “First, ‘non-affirmation’ of a child’s LGBTQI+ identity is unsafe and abuse, and second, parents who hold ‘non-affirming’ religious beliefs about marriage, gender, and sexuality are unable to provide loving and safe homes for LGBTQI+-identifying children.”

Ms. Morrison expresses concern over the future of adoption and the rights of biological parents. “These premises, if legally established, will not be limited to foster care,” she says. “Abuse is abuse whether a parent is fostering, seeking to adopt, fighting over custody, or raising a biological child.”

The New York Sun

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