Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Catholic Charities continues fight for state contracts

By Jamey Dunn

Catholic Charities organizations are appealing a court ruling that said the state has the right to end contracts with the organization for foster care and adoption services.

Kendall Marlowe, spokesperson for the Department of Children and Family Services, said the state did not renew contracts with the group because representatives of Catholic Charities voiced the organization’s intention not to comply with the state’s new civil unions law. The organization planned to refer couples in civil unions seeking to be foster or adoptive parents to another provider. The contracts are renewed on an annual basis. “We were unable to enter into contracts with them for Fiscal Year 2012,” Marlowe said.

The Catholic Conference of Illinois pushed for a bill during the spring legislative session that would have allowed them to refer couples in civil unions to other providers, but the measure was shot down in a Senate committee. When the state informed the organization that it would not renew the contracts, the Thomas More Society, a conservative legal organization, launched a lawsuit against Illinois. Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Schmidt ruled that the organization was not entitled to a renewed contract. “No citizen has a recognized legal right to contract with the government,” the opinion said.

The Thomas More Society today asked the court to stay the ruling and plans to file an appeal based on the fact that the ruling did not touch on the religious rights of Catholic Charities. “Catholic Charities is one of the lead providers of foster care services in the state. They have been valued partners for decades. Clearly the intent of the civil union law was not to force the state to end these contracts and force the transfer of thousands of children’s cases,” Bishop Daniel Jenky of the Diocese of Peoria said in a written statement.

Human rights organizations say Schmidt made the right decision. “The court correctly concluded on procedural grounds that the state could decline to renew its contracts with four dioceses of Catholic Charities. The state chose not to renew their contracts because they insisted on violating state and federal law by refusing to place children in the homes of couples in civil unions. Illinois correctly determined that this practice was bad for kids, could deny many of them their best opportunity for a better life, and that the state's obligation was to make the transition to other providers as seamless as possible,” Camilla Taylor, director of Lambda Legal’s Marriage Project, said in a written statement.

DCFS has been working on a plan to shift all of the approximately 2,000 foster care and adoption cases administered by Catholic Charities to other social services providers. The department already moved 300 children to a new agency in June after Catholic Charities of Rockford announced it would no longer handle the cases. Marlowe said that ideally, children and families aren’t even aware of the shift because caseworkers move to a new agency as well. “The only change that the child and foster family may perceive is a different logo at the top of the letterhead. All that has to change is the agency supervising the case.” Marlowe said that the department is moving forward with its work and plans to have all cases moved to new agencies by the fall “We would obviously respect any court orders that come down. But in the meantime, our orderly process goes forward.”

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