The Every Child Deserves a Family Act (ECDF), reintroduced Wednesday by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and Rep. Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR) prohibits discrimination against children, youth, families, and individuals on the basis of religion, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), and marital status in the administration and provision of child welfare services receiving Federal funds. It also improves safety, well-being, and permanency for LGBTQ children and youth in child welfare. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is the Senate sponsor.
The ECDF was first introduced by former Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA) in 2009. Rep. Lewis has been the primary sponsor of the bill since 2013.
It is estimated that there are more than 440,000 children in the United States foster care system, with over 120,000 of them waiting for a permanent family. More than 20,000 youth “age out” of care each year without any family and with limited support and resources.
ECDF is a federal bill that promotes the best interests of children by increasing the number of foster and adoptive homes available to all foster children and improving services to LGBTQ and religious minority foster children. ECDF does so by prohibiting federally funded child welfare service providers from discriminating against children, families, and individuals based on religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and marital status.
ECDF bans conversion therapy for children receiving or participating in federally funded child welfare programs or services. It promotes the well-being, safety and permanency of, and culturally competent care for, the 1 in 5 foster children who identify as LGBTQ and suffer greater rates of mistreatment and worse outcomes than non-LGBTQ foster youth. It does so by increasing access to best practices, resources, and technical assistance to states, tribes, and service providers, and by requiring data collection on LGBTQ foster youth and parents.
ECDF requires federally funded child welfare services and staff training to be affirming of foster children’s complex social identities, including their race, color, national origin, ability, religion, sex, sexual orientation and gender identity, as currently required for runaway and homeless youth.
The American Association of Pediatrics warns that policies singling out or discriminating against LGBTQ youth “are harmful to social-emotional health and may have lifelong consequences.” The Center for the Study of Social Policy has found that LGBTQ children “are disproportionately involved with child welfare and experience worse outcomes than their peers due to trauma they often experience while in state care.”
“Too many children dream of a stable, loving family,” said Rep. John Lewis. “Many adults want to open their homes and their hearts, but they also are facing more and more barriers, because some officials can say they practice the wrong religion, love the wrong person, or are not married. The Every Child Deserves a Family Act puts the happiness and well-being of our children front and center, engaging every possible match between solid families and children searching for a home. We must each do our part to ensure that every young person and capable, aspiring parents are able to enjoy the dream of a loving, stable family together.”
Congresswoman González-Colón said, “Unfortunately, the foster care system faces an overpopulation and many of these children reach 18 years of age and never get assigned to a home and end up in the streets without a safe roof. We are failing a full generation in the early stages of their lives, since we are unable to provide them with the necessary tools that will set the base for their future actions or decisions by denying them the love of a family by mere prejudices and lack of understanding of that love that has no barriers imposed by society. Eliminating interpretations of the law that can lead to discrimination is the right thing to do; taking responsibility as government to provide a roof and a home for our children is the right thing to do.”
As a mother who faced adoption challenges when trying to adopt her own son, Rep. Angie Craig had a personal stake in her involvement with the bill.
“No parent should ever be denied the opportunity to build a family because of who they love or how they identify, and no child should ever be mistreated because of their identity. All that should matter is that children are placed in a safe, loving home,” said Craig. “I’m proud to be a champion for this bill to ensure LGBTQ adoptive parents and children are treated with the respect they deserve.”
“Family Equality Council is pleased to see this critical piece of legislation, hails its bipartisan introduction, and thanks Rep. Craig for her lifelong, steadfast commitment to ending discrimination in adoptions and in the foster care system,” said Rev. Stan J. Sloan, Chief Executive Officer of the Family Equality Council. “Any solution to ending the foster care and adoption crisis must begin with ending the discrimination inherent in the system. This piece of legislation does just that, while also protecting the youth in care.”
“When foster or adoption agencies receive federal funding, they agree to abide by federal non-discrimination laws,” said Katy Joseph, Interfaith Alliance policy and legislative advisor. “But an increasing number of faith-based agencies are citing religious freedom as an exemption from these laws and rejecting applicants that do not live, love or worship as they do. And government officials are granting the requested exemptions. The misinterpretation of religious freedom hurts foster youth by unnecessarily restricting the pool of placements and forcing them to remain in care for longer than necessary. The ECDF Act will prohibit discrimination by any federally funded child welfare agency on the basis of religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and marital status.”
“The bottom line is that our country’s most vulnerable children need access to as many safe and loving homes as possible,” said Sandy Santana, Executive Director at Children’s Rights. “The Every Child Deserves a Family Act will provide exactly that, and prevent agencies from discriminating against qualified families simply because they do not pass a religious litmus test. Our children deserve nothing less.”
“The Every Child Deserves a Family Act would enact critically important protections for LGBTQ youth and families,” said David Stacy, HRC’s Government Affairs Director. “Congressman John Lewis has been a longtime champion for LGBTQ equality and we are grateful for his leadership on this legislation and his work advocating for other pro-equality measures like the Equality Act.”
“Given the undeniable crisis in our foster care system today, where too many children age out without finding their forever home and LGBTQ youth are subject to harm from discrimination, the Every Child Deserves a Family Act is vital to the well-being of America’s most vulnerable youth,” said Casey Pick, Senior Fellow for Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people. “We are especially grateful that this legislation would protect LGBTQ youth in foster care from being subjected to attempts to change their sexual orientation or gender identity through the pseudo-scientific practice of conversion therapy.”