Adults Should Support Spiritual Path Chosen by Foster, Adoptive Youths

“Mariah has developed her own spiritual path and needs an adoptive family who will honor her beliefs and not attempt to convert her to their own.”

“Dylan is open-minded, and he needs his future family to be open-minded about religion and his ideas about attending church.”

“Sadie has experienced many losses. She has developed a good relationship with her counselor. She does not want an adoptive family who is religious and judgmental.”

Foster and adoptive youth, who pursue spirituality outside the walls of churches, temples and mosques, are a growing minority in the adoption triad.

How do we know that there are teens in foster care who question their faith? Recent online adoption profiles, like those quoted above, have been produced by teens who are waiting in foster care to be adopted.

Honesty in identity is allowing more teens to make this “taboo” disclosure part of the process that matches each child with a stable, nurturing environment suited to his or her unique needs. Helpful social workers are disclosing these details to identify better adoption matches.

Is it fair to assume someone’s heritage defines their faith or culture? Can we allow teens in foster care to disclose their objection to organized religion and allow them to be selective with religion and faith, if they choose?

Openness and self-identification is helpful, not hurtful. It’s important that foster families and case workers allow youth in foster care to “open up the dialogue” about faith and culture in a way that is free of judgment. Teens who identify as openly secular need support, acceptance and allies.

According to many handbooks for children’s rights in foster care, the guidelines only address the heritage as a qualifier for someone’s faith. Check out the delineated rights on religious expression in Oregon’s handbook:

  • Your foster parents should support and promote maintenance of your religious heritage.
  • You have a right to attend religious services in accordance with your religious heritage.
  • Your foster parents or group home should help you arrange transportation to and from your place of worship, provided it is within a reasonable distance.
  • You can be prevented from attending religious services if there is a very strong reason for not allowing you to go. For example, foster parents can refuse you permission to go to services if you seriously misbehaved on a prior occasion, but they cannot refuse you permission simply because they don’t want you to go.
  • Your case worker should match you with foster care providers who understand your religious needs.

The idea that the teen may not want to go to church, but be made to do so in order to maintain one’s religiosity feels coerced. But, in the end, the case worker should match youth with foster care providers who understand their religious needs.

What if you have none? Who do you turn to?

As the number of secular individuals grow, the climate for support and imageacceptance is expanding too. The number of Americans who do not identify with a religion continues to grow. The religiously unaffiliated are still a minority, but the unaffiliated population in the previous five years increased from over 15% to just under 20%. In 2012, Pew Research found one-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated, the highest percentages ever in a Pew Research Center polling.

For more information on learning to be an ally for people from diverse backgrounds, such as secularism, check out Openly Secular and visit the Community Tool Box.

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