Congress Must Protect Foster Youth by Passing the John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act

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June 2, 2021
Statements

By Reps. Danny K. Davis, Jenniffer González-Colón, Angie Craig

“In my life I have done all I can to demonstrate that the way of peace, the way of love and nonviolence is the more excellent way. Now it is your turn to let freedom ring.”

— John Lewis, July 2020

Children in foster care are among the most vulnerable people in our society. They are disproportionately Black, Hispanic, indigenous, and LGBTQ.  Every year, more than 20,000 foster youth age out of care and only half of the 120,000 foster children waiting to be adopted find their forever family.

Although there is a shortage of foster parents in every state, several states allow taxpayer-funded agencies to turn away otherwise-qualified, caring parents due to their religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.

Government has the solemn responsibility to make decisions in the best interest of the child, consistent with accepted child welfare standards. A decision made in a child’s best interest requires a diverse array of safe and affirming foster homes to ensure that neglected and abused children find the right placement in a time of crisis to mitigate the trauma and instability they have experienced.  Denying prospective parents based on religion and sexual orientation exacerbates existing foster home shortages, undermines youths’ well-being, and removes opportunities for youth to join loving homes.

One in three foster youth identify as LGBTQ+ and suffer greater rates of mistreatment in care, placement in residential settings rather than with families, and homelessness, being trafficked and criminal justice involvement. 

We can address the shortage of foster families, the poor outcomes for LGBTQ+ foster youth, and the injustice of discrimination in one step by passing the John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act, which we proudly introduced this week.

For the last eight years, Congressman John Lewis championed this bill as the lead sponsor because he believed, like we do, that federally-funded child welfare service providers should not be allowed to turn away, deny needed services to, or otherwise discriminate against children, families, and individuals because of their religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.

The bill promotes the best interests of children by increasing the number of foster and adoptive homes available to all children in foster care. It also ensures that all children and families touched by the child welfare system receive the identity-affirming, culturally-competent care they deserve.

The stories we’ve heard from youth about their hope for an affirming family and the suffering they experienced - especially as they aged out of the system - moved and motivated us to advance this legislation. 

This bill includes the requests of foster youth for supportive adults and homes that help heal their identities so they can thrive. In his final opinion piece, John shared that he drew hope from the millions of protestors around the globe who set aside divisions based on personal characteristics, background, and nationality to demand respect for human dignity. Whether we’re members of Congress or teachers, farmers or nurses, caseworkers or child advocates, we each have a role in building a more just and equal society for everyone.

As John would say, fighting discrimination is just the right thing to do.