Foster Care Crisis

By Kathryn Jean Lopez Published on August 15, 2023

“Their faith is not supportive.” That was the official Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) determination about Mike and Kitty Burke’s application to be foster parents. Otherwise qualified to be certified as foster parents, they failed because of their answers to a series of hypothetical questions about sexual orientation and gender dysphoria. The Burkes said they would love and accept any child, but that they also wouldn’t abandon their religious beliefs about human sexuality. And so they cannot foster children in their state.

They’ve gone to court over this. I hope it doesn’t take a Supreme Court case for DCF to be set straight. For as long as child-welfare workers are discriminating against solid candidates for foster parents, it’s children who suffer.

Foster Care Should be About the Children

This Massachusetts case is not unprecedented. Just before the pandemic began in March 2020, the Washington State Department of Child, Youth and Families worked to keep James and Gail Blais from caring for their great-granddaughter for similar reasons. A judge eventually ruled: “If the only factor weighing against an otherwise qualified applicant has to do with their sincerely held religious beliefs, the Department must not discriminate against a foster care applicant based on their creed.”

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Polls have suggested that people don’t believe that religious liberty is being threatened in the United States. They are right, if you compare things to Coptic Christians in Egypt or priests being regularly kidnapped or killed in Nigeria. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have our problems. Foster care cannot be about adults. It needs to be about the children. And, for the record, gay couples are not unable to foster and adopt in America. In a pluralistic society, we have agencies to choose from. Catholics should not have to get out of the foster and adoption ministry because of current mores.

Lose the Hypothetical Litmus Tests

Real children need families. The Burkes are upstanding citizens. He’s an Iraq war vet. She’s worked as a paraprofessional for children with special needs. They own a business and are active in their church. They seem like fitting candidates for foster parenthood. If we can put politics and so-called culture wars aside, can’t we agree that children in foster care deserve good families, not confusing, entirely hypothetical litmus tests?

There are not enough foster parents in America. These cases highlight some of the reasons why. And yet, ministries like the Christian Alliance for Orphans emphasize that if even one family in every church in America became foster parents, we’d solve the problem. Besides the fact that it’s a violation of the freedom of religion to prohibit Catholics and other people of traditional religious faith from being foster parents, surely people of goodwill can see how banning all believing Christians from fostering would be harmful to children in need of families.

It’s worth a prayer that we put aside some of our adult disagreements to actually be adults and take care of children who need our help. Having a good family makes all the difference. Children deserve better than our same-old politics. And they certainly deserve government agencies that exist to protect them to stop making everything about sex. Conservatives are often accused of being obsessed with it, but these cases do seem to suggest the left is preoccupied with it as well. So let’s drop the caricatures, for the children.


Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and author of the new book A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living. She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life commission in New York, and is on the board of the University of Mary. She can be contacted at [email protected].

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