Despite announcing plans to resume doing business with faith-based foster care agencies that don’t work with same-sex couples, Michigan recently reiterated its commitment to ensuring LGBTQ families feel welcome and valued as foster and adoptive parents.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced late last month that it would fall in line with a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that a Philadelphia foster care agency could not be forced to place children with same-sex couples — even though it received federal funding — on the grounds of religious freedom. That same day, the state announced its intent to expand support for LGBTQ families who want to become foster or adoptive parents.
Having no choice in light of the Supreme Court decision, the state settled a lawsuit Jan. 25 with Lansing-based St. Vincent Catholic Charities, which sued in 2019 after state child welfare leaders announced that the human services department would no longer contract with agencies that discriminated against same-sex couples or LGBTQ individuals.
“While this outcome is not what we hoped for, we are committed to providing support to the many members in the LGBTQ community who want to open their hearts and their homes,” said Demetrius Starling, executive director of the state Children’s Services Agency.
The state’s acquiescence nevertheless didn’t sit right with Children’s Rights Senior Staff Attorney Daniele Gerard: “The settlement sends a message to LGBTQ adults and children in Michigan that their rights are not protected and their identities are not valued at a time when a shortage of safe and loving foster homes is creating a crisis across the US.” She further stated that the “decision to permit taxpayer-funded discrimination” came on the heels of a report that “confirmed the state is falling short on its commitment to children in foster care.”
Gerard called on Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the state legislature, as well as congress, to take urgent steps to assure the safety of children in foster care by providing consistent anti-discrimination protections and due dignity and respect for LGBTQ children and adults.
“MDHHS recognizes, values, affirms and appreciates the significant contributions made by the LGBTQ families caring for children in foster care and those choosing to adopt,” Starling said in a statement. “We could not do this work without them.”
He said the department soon will announce plans to further strengthen their engagement with LGBTQ families, including assessment of any service gaps or program enhancements needed to help families.
About 10,500 children are in the Michigan foster care system, with about 2,100 having a goal of adoption, according to the MDHHS, 9and10 News reported. Roughly 220 children are currently waiting for an adoptive family to be identified.