On the last full week of National Foster Care Month, Family Equality hosted a virtual press conference to re-introduce the John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family (“Every Child”) Act into Congress.
As Family Equality’s CEO, Stacey Stevenson, said in her opening remarks, more than 400,000 children are in foster care. 120,000 are waiting for an adoptive family, and more than half of those children won’t see a family by the end of the year.
“Think about that for a moment: A child…waiting, hoping, and dreaming of the day they find their forever homes. But that family never arrives.”
The Every Child Act could change this by prohibiting federally-funded foster care agencies from discriminating against prospective parents.
Members of Congress hope to end discrimination in adoption and foster care
U.S. Representative Danny Davis (D-IL-7) is the lead cosponsor on the bill. He kicked off the event with a tribute to his friend and colleague, the late Congressman John Lewis. “For the last 8 years, my late colleague & friend, Congressman John Lewis, served as the lead sponsor of [this bill]. To honor [his] commitment, we named this bill the John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act.”
“Our legislation would help give more children a loving home,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate.
Co-sponsor, U.S. Representative Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR), followed by sharing why the John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act is so important to her and her constituents [link to tweet].
U.S. Representative Angie Craig (D-MN-2) has long been a champion of this bill, having experienced discrimination on her own adoption journey. She joined other members of Congress by sharing her story.
“[This is] an especially important piece of legislation to me & my family, because many years ago…we experienced anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in the adoption of our son, Josh. It was the most heartbreaking experience of my life. No parent should…be denied the opportunity to build a family just because of who they love or how they identify. That’s why this legislation is so important.”U.S. Representative Angie Craig (D-MN-2)
Faith leaders and LGBTQ+ advocates with lived experience urge passage of bill
Same-sex couples are seven times more liekly to foster or adopt a child than opposite-sex couples. But in many states, agencies can turn away qualified parents because of who they are or whom they love. Foster and adoptive parent, and Executive Director of Dignity USA, Marianne Duddy-Burke experienced this firsthand. She shared how she and her wife were first denied the opportunity to expand their family through foster care. She also highlighted some of the stories of LGBTQ+ youth they’ve cared for.
“When the state takes custody of a child, that child belongs to all of us. The current system is failing too many children who are LGBTQ+, Black and Brown, members of minority faiths, or have special needs.”Marianne Duddy-Burke, Executive Director of Dignity USA
1 in 3 youth in foster care identifying as LGBTQ+. There is an urgent need for affirming foster and adoptive homes. In fact, for Weston Charles-Gallo, LGBTQ+ foster care advocate, it was a matter of life and death. “My two dads saved my life,” he recalled in his remarks.
He also urged faith-based agencies to live their faith and provide equal treatment, citing Bethany Christian Services’ recent policy change as an example. His powerful remarks ended with an important message: “Nondiscrimination saves lives.”
40% of agencies that receive taxpayer funds to place children in foster homes are religiously affiliated. For Mary J. Novak, Executive Director of NETWORK: Lobby for Catholic Social Justice and for Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block, Washington Director of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action ensuring that these agencies keep their doors open to all qualified parents is a moral imperative.
Every Child Deserves a Family campaign co-chairs speak on importance of bill
Impassioned words from the co-chairs of the Every Child Deserves a Family campaign followed:
Diego M. Sanchez, APR, Director of Advocacy, Policy and Partnerships for PFLAG National shared the impact of finding an affirming family on his own life, reminding Congress that “Every day delayed risks the wellbeing of a child who deserves a safe and loving home.”
Schylar Baber, executive director of Voice for Adoption, described the years he spent in an evangelical foster home in Montana, detailing his experiences with conversion therapy. In addition to prohibiting discrimination, the Every Child Act would bar conversion therapy in child welfare—protecting future youth in foster care from similar experiences.
Dylan Waguespack of True Colors United highlighted the fact that LGBTQ+ youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than their peers. “Reducing that risk requires meaningful reforms to our foster care system to ensure that every single young person who enters care is leaving with strong connections to supportive adults,” they said.