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State forces Catholic Charities out of foster care, adoption
Posted By Jim Hagerty On May 26, 2011 @ 5:00 pm In Happening Now, Local News | No Comments
Online Staff Report
ROCKFORD—The Rockford Diocese announced today, May 26, that its Catholic Charities offices would no longer offer state-funded adoption and foster care services.
The agency is being forced to opt out of contracting with the State of Illinois for these services because of the Illinois legislature’s failure to enact an explicit amendment to the new Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act .
The failed amendment would have allowed Catholic Charities to refer unmarried, cohabitating couples, whether same-sex or opposite sex, to other agencies so as to not violate the teachings of the Catholic faith when the Civil Unions law goes into effect on June 1.
Catholic Charities in the Rockford Diocese handles approximately 350 foster family and adoption cases in 11 counties in northern Illinois with a state budget of $7.5 million.
Forty-two full-time caseworkers are employed to monitor these placements. An additional 24 employees have, as part of their duties, work in this area. In all 58 workers will be terminated.
These workers are spread through-out offices in two regions—one in the East with offices in Aurora, Elgin and McHenry. Catholic Charities Western Region has offices in Rockford, Freeport, Belvidere and Sterling.
When this transition and redefinition of services is complete, Catholic Charities will work out of three offices–one in Rockford, one in Aurora and one in McHenry.
Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Rockford has been offering exemplary, and nationally recognized, service to foster families and adopting families for more than 100 years when it started serving abandoned children through orphanages.
Until today, Catholic Charities was always allowed to refer unmarried cohabitating couples to secular adoption and foster-care services.
“On June 1, 2011, the State of Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act is scheduled to take effect,” Penny Wiegert, diocesan director of communication, said. “Catholic Charities and other religious agencies implored the State of Illinois to allow their agencies to refer such couples to other adoption and foster care agencies so as to not violate the moral teachings of their faith.
“Tragically, that did not happen. The state legislature failed to pass an explicit amendment exempting religious entities from the application of the civil unions law in its state-funded adoption and foster care programs.
“Even with the tireless efforts of the state’s Catholic Charities directors including Mr. Vonch, and the lobbying efforts of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, the exemption failed.”
The agency is assisting caseworkers to find other employment, spokesmen said. All landlords and elected officials in each of the cities and counties served by Catholic Charities offices are being notified of the discontinuation of these services.
Catholic Charities caseworker supervisors, May 26, began the process of notifying all foster and adoptive families served by the agency. The families also were to receive a letter by mail of the decision.
“Legally, albeit emotionally painful, we determined this was the right decision to make for the moral and financial future of the Diocese of Rockford,” Ellen Lynch, general counsel for the Rockford Diocese, said. “The law of our land has always guaranteed its people freedom of religion.
Wiegert added: “Denying this exemption to faith-based agencies leads one to believe that our lawmakers prefer laws that guarantee freedom from religion. We simply can not compromise the spirit that motivates us to deliver quality, professional services to families by letting our state define our religious teachings.”
The process of closing out the foster care and adoption programs, which includes transferring all cases to other agencies, is scheduled to end in August. The complete redefinition of service to be offered by Catholic Charities will be reported as it evolves, according to Vonch.
Services no longer offered by Catholic Charities include: state-funded Foster Care including counseling of foster children and special programming; state-funded Adoption Services including adoption counseling; state-funded parenting classes and state-funded extended family support program.
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