Jay Williams

On Wednesday, January 30, Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) reintroduced the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act (S.274), similar to legislation he sponsored along with Congressman Mike Kelly (R-PA) last year. The legislation, which CWLA does not support, would require HHS to penalize state child welfare agencies who are found in violation of “provider inclusion” provisions and protect providers ability to discriminate based on religious beliefs even at the expense of providing services to children. CWLA views such legislation as ignoring and undercutting the central principle of child welfare, placing the best interest of children and youth first.

The legislation grants faith-based child welfare provider’s immunity from the nondiscriminatory regulations and sanctions placed on Title IV-E and Title IV-B providers. It defines ‘‘child welfare service provider’’ as:

“organizations, corporations, groups, entities, or individuals that provide or seek to provide, or that apply for or receive a contract, subcontract, grant, or subgrant for the provision of, child welfare services. A provider need not be engaged exclusively in child welfare services to be considered a child welfare service provider for purposes of this Act.”

“child welfare services” is defined as:

“social services provided to or on behalf of children, including assisting abused, neglected, or troubled children, counseling children or parents, promoting foster parenting, providing foster homes or temporary group shelters for children, recruiting foster parents, placing children in foster homes, licensing foster homes, promoting adoption, recruiting adoptive parents, assisting adoptions, supporting adoptive families, assisting kinship guardianships, assisting kinship caregivers, providing family preservation services, providing family support services, and providing time-limited family reunification services.”

The law still allows a prohibition of recruitment or placement on the basis of “race, color, or national origin” but would allow providers to object to all other requirements of Title IV-B and Title I-V-E state plans if the agency or individual indicated it was against their religious or moral beliefs. This could mean refusal to place, recruit or provide any service despite federal, state and local child welfare requirements.

Recent actions by the Trump Administration, which would be strengthened by this legislation, would be according to critics including Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), is an allowance for “tax-payer funded discrimination” through the claim of religious freedom.

This legislation comes on the heel of the recent decision by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to allow a religious exemption from anti-discrimination regulations to federally funded child-serving agencies in the state of South Carolina. Many legislators have expressed opposition to the Administration’s waiver decision.

On Thursday, Chair of the House Subcommittee on Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations, Rosa DeLauro sent a letter to HHS stating,

“As the Chairwoman of Labor-Health and Human Services-Education Appropriations Subcommittee, I strongly oppose the use of taxpayer dollars to discriminate against potential parents because of their religion or sexual orientation. Discrimination has absolutely no place in our child welfare services, whether it is anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, or anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Assistant Secretary Johnson stated that she did not issue this waiver “carte blanche” to apply to all states, but if you fail to rescind this waiver, it is an invitation to other states to pursue identical waivers.”

The bill by Senator Enzi is contrary to CWLA’s recent actions opposing discrimination in recruitment of parents and placement of children.

CWLA President & CEO Chris James-Brown issued a statement critical of the South Carolina waiver highlighting the fact that the letter and decision made little mention of children and the impact on children stating, “it ignores the impact on the children and youth in foster care, particularly those young people who identify as LGBT.”