A Focus On: Georgia's Dangerous Adoption Bill

Last week, state legislators in the Georgia Senate Judiciary Committee highjacked HB 159, a bill that was designed to modernize Georgia’s adoption laws. Against the wishes of the bill sponsor, members of the committee added language to the bill that would require the state to fund child placement agencies that discriminate against families and children. The language is aimed at allowing faith-based agencies to discriminate against LGBTQ children and families, but its damage will go much further. The Governor has signaled he opposes the bill, yet it could go to the Senate floor this week for a vote.

The state routinely contracts with child placement agencies to place children in adoptive and foster homes and provide support services to children and families. Under the new provision, however, a taxpayer-funded child placement agency could refuse to carry out the functions it contracts with the state to do—if the agency believed any of those functions would violate its “mission.” Here are some of the potential devastating consequences of this bill:

HB 159 Would Allow Taxpayer-Funded Child Placement Agencies to Refuse to Help Children In Need

A child placement agency, paid by taxpayer dollars to perform adoption and foster care services, could refuse to help a child or young adult who needs a home and a family. The agency could reject a child for any reason that they claim violates its “mission,” including, for example, that the child is gay, belongs to the “wrong” religion, or is the “wrong” gender or race. It could also, for example, refuse to take in a child who is Jewish, because its mission is to support Christianity.

That a taxpayer-funded agency could reject a child in need is unconscionable, and such a rejection will only add to any emotional issues a child in such circumstances may already be facing.

HB 159 Would Allow Child Placement Agencies to Refuse to Provide Certain Services to Children in their Care, Putting the Welfare of the Child at Risk

The new language allows an agency to refuse to perform any service that “conflicts with” its mission, even if the government contract would otherwise require it to provide those services. For example, a Christian agency could refuse to allow a Muslim child to attend religious services if it believes that helping her exercise her faith conflicts with its mission. An agency could refuse to provide a teenager who is a victim of sexual abuse needed reproductive healthcare services—something that she would have no other way to obtain. Or, it could refuse to provide mental health counseling to any child in its care if its mission rejects psychiatric treatment.

This provision would require the government to continue an ongoing contract with such agencies and renew contracts in the future, even though the actions of the organizations put the welfare of children in their care at risk, and even though refusing the services otherwise would violate their contract. The government would also be prohibited from reducing payments to the agency even if it ends up performing a fraction of the services contracted for. The result—the government must provide a contract to the organization, but the organization can refuse to perform any provision in the contract.

HB 159 Would Allow Taxpayer-Funded Child Placement Agencies to Ignore the Best Interest of the Child and Discriminate Against Parents

It is universally understood that child placement agencies must provide services to children based solely on what is in the best interest of the child. The new language in HB 159, however, undermines this bedrock child welfare standard by placing an agency’s “mission” over the best interests of the children they contract to serve.    

For example, as written, an agency funded by taxpayer dollars could deny a placement to any parent, including an interfaith, inter-racial, or same-sex couple. It could refuse to allow a child’s aunt to adopt her because that aunt has been divorced, has used birth control, is unmarried, or believes in equal rights for same-sex couples. This is unacceptable.

Imagine trying to adopt a child and knowing that, although the agency is funded by your taxpayer dollars and you would provide a loving home, the organization refuses to place a child with you based on its ”mission.” But the result is not just discrimination against parents: By allowing agencies to turn away qualified prospective parents, this bill would increase both wait times for children in care as well as the number of youth leaving care without finding their forever family. 

HB 159 Would Lead to a Loss of Hundreds of Millions of Dollars
in Federal Funding

Federal laws prohibit recipients of federal funds from discriminating in adoption, including on the basis of race and sex. HB 159, however, ignores these fundamental nondiscrimination requirements. Instead, it allows agencies to put any litmus test it chooses on adoption, even if it leads to race, sex or other types of federally prohibited discrimination. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution “Bobby Cagle, director at the state’s Division of Family and Children Services, said the changes would likely endanger ‘hundreds of millions of dollars’ the agency received from the federal government because they appeared to violate federal nondiscrimination laws.” Those who are left unmoved by the harms this bill would cause to children and families, might be moved by the potential economic devastation its enactment could cause.

After the backlash Georgia faced last year when the legislature attempted to allow taxpayer-funded discrimination, it’s surprising that the state senate is willing to go down this road again. And even shocking that they made the target of discrimination youth who need adoptive and foster homes and the parents who want open their hearts to them.

Follow Maggie Garrett online at @maggiefgarrett