Yesterday, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act (ECDF) was reintroduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and we anticipate its reintroduction in the Senate soon. ECDF is an important federal bill that will provide non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ prospective foster and adoptive parents and youth in care. When passed, the bill will restrict federal funding for states employing discriminatory practices in adoption and foster care placements based on the sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status of potential parents, as well as the sexual orientation or gender identity of youth in foster care. At its heart, ECDF will ensure that more kids in foster care find a loving and stable home – be it a temporary foster home while they await reunification with family or a forever home with adoptive parents.
ECDF was first introduced in 2009 during the 111th Congress, and despite significant progress in the LGBTQ community’s fight for legal and lived equality – including winning marriage equality nationwide in 2015 and the recent striking down of the last remaining state ban on LGBTQ people fostering or adopting children – the passage of ECDF is perhaps more important than ever. Indeed, the number of kids in foster care remains unbelievably high and discrimination against LGBTQ would-be foster and adoptive parents and kids in care persists.
According to the most recent federal government report, there are over 427,000 children in the child welfare system nationwide, more than 111,000 of whom are eligible for adoption. And, each year an astounding number of those young people – more than 20,000 in 2015 – “age out” of foster care, effectively entering adulthood with no parents, no family, no place to call home and depressingly high odds of homelessness, early pregnancy, incarceration, unemployment, poverty, and sexual exploitation. Despite a very clear shortage of foster and adoptive homes, however, discriminatory barriers continue to prevent children from finding permanency in a loving, forever family.
So, how would ECDF help? It would prevent child welfare providers from continuing to turn away otherwise qualified prospective foster and adoptive parents because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status. Doing so would open more homes for kids in care by tapping into a historically under-utilized community of potential parents. Research tells us that same-sex couples are six times more likely to serve as foster parents and four times more likely to adopt children, and there are potentially as many as two million additional LGBTQ people who might step forward to foster or adopt if discriminatory barriers preventing them from doing so were eliminated.
In addition, ECDF’s prohibition of discrimination against LGBTQ kids in care would require foster care providers to fulfill their primary responsibility of ensuring that every youth in foster care is safe and has every opportunity to find the right home, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is a necessary step given that LGBTQ children, who make up 20% of youth in care, often face discrimination and familial rejection prior to and upon entering foster care.
ECDF would set a much needed national standard by which all of those engaged in the foster care system must be treated. Currently, only a handful of states have affirmative non-discrimination protections in place, leaving the remainder of the country with a patchwork of state laws that creates an uneven and often unpredictable system that treats LGBTQ prospective parents and youth in care differently depending on where they live. Although, there are no longer any outright bans on LGBTQ people from fostering or adopting, thanks to years of litigation by our sister organizations that ultimately resulted in courts striking such laws as unconstitutional, discrimination continues in some states and we are seeing a new tactic – an increasing number of states passing so-called “religious liberty” laws that allow government-funded child welfare providers to discriminate against LGBTQ people in the name of personally held “moral” or “religious” beliefs.
So, as National Foster Care Month comes to a close, we celebrate the reintroduction of ECDF and renew our commitment to ECDF’s underlying purpose – to remove barriers to finding forever homes for all youth in care and ensure that all youth in care and prospective parents are treated with dignity and respect.