Julián Castro, the former housing secretary now running for president, wants to use an executive order to prevent federally funded child welfare agencies from turning away LGBTQ people who want to foster or adopt children.
Castro’s child welfare plan, released ahead of the Human Rights Campaign’s LGBTQ-focused presidential forum in Los Angeles, seeks to strengthen Obama-era regulations against turning away potential foster parents on the basis of religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
After issuing an executive order, Castro said he would push to enact a similar bill that’s already been introduced in Congress to reinforce antidiscrimination protections for people fostering and adopting, along with the Equality Act, which aims to explicitly and broadly prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ people.
The Trump administration has made moves toward walking back that regulation. In January, the federal department of Health and Human Services granted a waiver to a Christian ministry in South Carolina allowing it to receive federal funding and remain in the public child welfare system while working only with Christian families. In May, the administration was considering rescinding entirely the Obama-era protections, which bars groups deemed to discriminate on the basis of religion from receiving federal funds, or adding language that would exclude religious organizations from having to abide by the rules.
Those moves have been echoed in other areas by the administration, too — two married same-sex couples are currently suing the State Department after they were told that their children born overseas are not entitled to birthright citizenship because they were considered to have been born “out of wedlock.”
“This is state-sponsored discrimination that will not be enabled by federal funding. Not only are these policies bigoted, but they also exacerbate the shortage of foster families,” Castro wrote in a Medium post on Thursday.
Only five states have laws that stop child welfare groups from turning foster parents away because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project.
Castro said his administration would “strategically recruit” families who are equipped to support “older youth, siblings, people of color, children with disabilities, non-English speakers, and LGBTQ-youth, that have the hardest time matching with a foster family,” partly to reduce the number of children who need to go to group homes, where they receive fewer resources and attention.
His proposal also includes a $10 billion increase in funding for child neglect and abuse prevention services, including training and higher wages for social workers, in an effort to keep more children out of the child welfare system.
Castro said he would address the problem of young people ageing out of foster care at the age of 18 by allowing them to opt to stay in foster care until they turn 21, up from the current federal cutoff of 18 years. That’s a standard that 25 states and the District of Columbia have already put in place to address a range of problems — the National Foster Youth Institute says that 20% of 18-year-olds who age out of foster care become immediately homeless and that fewer than 3% are able to graduate from college.