Philadelphia Foster Care Crisis:
A Call for Help
In March 2018, the City of Philadelphia put out an urgent call for more foster families. Like the rest of the country, Philadelphia’s foster care system is in a state of crisis. There are about 6,000 children in the foster care system in Philadelphia. The city has “the highest per-capita rate of children being placed in foster care of any major city in the country.”
There is a shortage of foster families to care for kids who desperately need them, and the system is overburdened. But despite this crisis, the City of Philadelphia has cut off one of its most successful foster care placement agencies, Catholic Social Services, and as a result the many foster parents that work with them. This means fewer families, and fewer homes for kids in need.
Eliminating Catholic Social Services Will Hurt Children
Catholic Social Services has been placing children in foster care homes for over a hundred years. It has worked with the City of Philadelphia for 50 years. In 2017 alone, Catholic placed 266 children in foster care homes.
But the City of Philadelphia abruptly suspended all referrals to Catholic, just because it disagrees with their religious beliefs on marriage. Catholic has always operated based on its religious beliefs. Yet, suddenly, the city told Catholic that it must stop operating in accordance with its beliefs on marriage or shut down its foster care program.
Because the city has suspended referrals to Catholic, willing foster families’ homes sit empty, and children placed with current Catholic families risk being taken from the homes they know. Right now, Catholic has 35 available homes sitting empty because of the city’s actions.
This Case Is About Politics, At The Expense of Kids
The City of Philadelphia abruptly stopped all foster care referrals to Catholic Social Services in March 2018. Their reason? Catholic Social Services operates according to its Catholic beliefs. The city decided that Catholic’s beliefs about marriage were outdated, telling Catholic that “it’s not 100 years ago.” The city threatened to permanently break its partnership with Catholic—a partnership that has benefited children and families for more than 50 years—unless the religious organization abandon its religious beliefs.
The city’s move came out of the blue—no one has ever filed a complaint against Catholic Social Services, and Catholic Social Services has never prevented a child from being placed in a loving home. No one has ever been turned away from Catholic because of its beliefs about marriage.
Foster care placement agencies refer families to other agencies for many reasons, but the City of Philadelphia has singled out religious beliefs about marriage. The city only targeted religious agencies, even though all agencies refer potential foster families to other agencies for a variety of reasons, including geographic proximity, language needs, and the need for specialized care.
The numbers speak for themselves. While hundreds of children in the foster care system are waiting for loving homes, the City of Philadelphia refuses to let Catholic place children—even though Catholic currently has 35 homes available.
The City of Philadelphia is more interested in a political agenda than real kids. The city is trying to score political points with “a hypothetical religious dispute of the city’s own invention.” But it’s coming at the expense of children and families.
Becket continues to defend these foster children and parents in a federal appeals court. The Supreme Court may consider the matter after the Third Circuit Court of Appeals considers their case.
On April 22, 2019, the Third Circuit denied Catholic Social Services’ request for a preliminary injunction.