Reform of the Texas foster care system has been an elusive goal for state lawmakers. A federal judge ruled the system unconstitutional and “broken” two years ago. One proposal that has received support in the current legislative session would have the state contract with religious organizations and other non-profits to provide care for foster children. But the idea has received pushback from some of the religious groups themselves.
Marissa Evans, a reporter who covers health and human services for the Texas Tribune, says religious groups are nervous about potential legal liability, especially given the history of regulatory, and court challenges to religious-based foster care in the state.
“Lester Roloff was a baptist preacher based in Corpus Christi Texas,” Evens says. “He was trying to save teenagers, so he opened three different homes…At the time, the idea was to help [young] women who were very troubled, maybe dealing drugs or alcohol.”
Evans says a Texas House committee investigated the facilities, but that Roloff fought attempts to regulate his facilities, claiming his religious liberty was being taken away.
“These girls were being mistreated – not being fed, being whipped, beaten – at the time Roloff, when he testified in front of this committee in Corpus Christi [said] ‘I am a religious man, I am doing this on religious pretenses and therefore I should not be regulated because this is a separation between church and state,’” Evans says.
In 1975 the Legislature passed the Child Care Licensing Act which required facilities caring for children to be regulated by the state.
Today, as lawmakers look for ways to fix the system, many want to turn to religious communities for help.
“[Officials ranging] from Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, to First Lady Cecilia Abbott have been really pushing faith-based organizations to get more involved with the child welfare program because they feel these communities are grounded households, and that they have the means and ability to take in these children who need homes,” Evans says.
But the prospect of state regulation gives religious groups pause.
“There are groups that say that when they’ve tried to help in the child welfare system – they have been sued for not taking a young woman to get an abortion or contraception, who have decided not to place a child in a same-sex home – and been sued over that,“ Evans says.
Written by Shelly Brisbin.