12 July 2011

More on the State vs. Catholic Charities

The Bellingham Herald reports that "Illinois doesn't renew Catholic Charities' foster, adoption contracts."  Their text follows, with my emphases and comments:
CHICAGO The state of Illinois has declined to renew its foster care and adoption contracts with Catholic Charities across Illinois, possibly ending a historic public and private partnership initiated by the Roman Catholic Church a half-century ago and potentially severing the relationship between 2,500 foster children and their caseworkers.

Lawyers for three of the Catholic Charities agencies will seek an injunction from a Sangamon County judge on Tuesday.

In a letter sent last week to Catholic Charities in the dioceses of Peoria, Joliet, Springfield and Belleville, the Department of Children and Family Services told all four agencies that the state could not accept its signed contracts for the 2012 fiscal year because "your agency has made it clear that it does not intend to comply with the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act."

"That law applies to foster care and adoption services," each letter stated. "Thus, there is no meeting of the minds as to the (Fiscal Year 2012) Foster Care and Adoption Contracts."

Last month, Catholic Charities in the dioceses of Springfield, Peoria and Joliet sued the Illinois attorney general and DCFS for threatening to enforce new policies that accommodate civil unions. The three agencies asked the court to declare that they are legally justified to preserve their current policy of exclusively granting licenses to married couples and single, non-cohabiting individuals and referring couples in civil unions to other child welfare agencies.

Since March, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Gov. Pat Quinn's legal team and DCFS have been researching the Illinois Human Rights Act, the Civil Union Act and the Illinois Constitution to determine whether they prohibit agencies from considering sexual orientation as a factor in foster care and adoption. In Illinois, all adults who adopt or become foster care providers must obtain foster care licenses.

During a meeting last month, lawyers for the attorney general's office and DCFS reportedly told Catholic Charities that couples in civil unions must be treated the same as married couples when it comes to providing foster care services, said Peter Breen, an attorney with the Thomas More Society representing Catholic Charities.

"We're not sure what the state is intending to do or how it's intending to do it," Breen said. "It's a surprise. But it's also very disturbing. The impact on the 2,500 children in Catholic Charities care will be catastrophic."

A spokeswoman for the attorney general's office confirmed there was a June 20 meeting.

"We will respond to Catholic Charities' arguments in court. Our focus remains on doing what is best for the care and welfare of children in the foster care system in Illinois," said Robyn Ziegler, a Madigan spokeswoman.

Kendall Marlowe, a spokesman for DCFS, said the state couldn't agree to do business with partners who have declared their intention to violate state law. Though Catholic Charities in Joliet, Springfield and Peoria had suspended issuing new licenses for foster care and adoptive parents until a ruling was made, they also had signed new contracts for another year of public funding. Those contracts were denied.

"We cannot enter into a contract for services with anyone who has publicly affirmatively stated that we will not follow the law in delivering those services," Marlowe said. "These agencies have chosen this course and we must now plan to transition these cases with the least disruption for the children we serve."

Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Rockford voluntarily ended its publicly funded foster care and adoption services last month. Youth Service Bureau of Illinois Valley, an Ottawa agency, expanded and took over all of Catholic Charities' cases, staff and real estate.

"We have a strong community of private sector, not-for-profit child welfare agencies who stand ready to take these cases," Marlowe said.

Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Chicago ended its foster care services in 2007 after losing its insurance coverage. Cases and caseworkers scattered to a number of different agencies.

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