An LGBTQ foster-parent recruitment session to encourage more LGBTQ people to open their homes to children in need attracted an “overwhelming” number of agencies and more than 50 prospective and inquiring couples, families and single people.
Cecilia Rivas, resource-development administrator at the city’s Department of Human Services, said her office was flooded with so many requests by foster agencies to attend the informational session that she had to cap the number of participating agencies.
“There are so many agencies that wanted to show support for the community, and that their ideals didn’t line up with agencies who aren’t welcoming to LGBT people,” said Rivas.
More than 20 local foster-care agencies expressed interest in the session. Ten foster agencies — including A Second Chance, Jewish Family and Children’s Services, Turning Points for Children and New Foundations — participated in an effort to court prospective foster parents.
The Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs — in partnership with and Philadelphia Family Pride — hosted its latest, and biggest, informational session Aug. 16 at the University of Pennsylvania’s LGBT Center. The event is the fourth to take place since October.
The recruitment meeting comes amid a high-profile battle between the City of Philadelphia and Catholic Social Services over LGBTQ couples as foster parents. In March, DHS suspended additional foster-child referrals to CSS and Bethany Christian Services, after neither agency was accepting LGBTQ people as foster parents. In June, city officials resumed referring foster-care children to Bethany after the agency adopted an antibias policy that now includes the LGBTQ community as prospective foster parents. CSS was recently denied an emergency request to resume foster-care referrals by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.
The informational sessions are one way to combat the stigma of LGBTQ peopleas foster parents, especially when certain agencies are turning them away, said Evan Thornburg, deputy director of the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs.
“LGBTQ families are under attack from people who choose to believe that LGBTQ people are a danger to these children or that they’re not suited to be foster parents,” she said, adding that nearly 15,000 children are in the state’s foster-care system, including about 5,000 in Philadelphia.
“We’re doing all that we can to remind folks in the LGBTQ community that a couple of bad apples shouldn’t spoil the bunch,” said Thornburg. “There are fostering agencies here and around the city that are ready to assist anyone looking to step up and help some children. We bring in DHS and a number of foster-care agencies to help put peoples’ minds at ease that they’re absolutely wanted and encouraged to take in a child or two who’s in need of love and support,” said Thornburg.
Lydia Cooper, a representative from A Second Chance Inc., attended the event.
“Everyone, no matter how they identify, is needed in providing care for children who need it the most,” she said. “It’s important that we relay the message to everyone that we need more people willing to open up their homes to children who may not have any other solutions. LGBTQ families are showing up to these sessions and are actually taking the next steps in the process to become foster parents.”
Stephanie Haynes, executive director of Philadelphia Family Pride, said at least a handful of attendees from previous sessions have already begun the foster-parent process.
During the session, five panelists spoke about their experiences as foster parents, including one panelist who described growing up in the foster-care system.
Panelist Tony Morse has 12 foster children he and his partner consider their own. Morse, who owns residential properties throughout the city, transformed two of his homes into living spaces for the children.
As the former residential director of The Bridge Program — a nonprofit that helps adolescents ages 14-18 overcome substance abuse and mental-health issues — Morse said he found his love of helping young people in need. He established his first foster-family home when he found out that five brothers aged 3-11 were unable to be placed in a home together. Morse said he feared the brothers would be separated, and decided to take them after a family member was unable to care for the siblings.
“I’m really glad I’m able to make an impact on these young people’s lives. Because I have a social-work background, I knew that there’s a need for more homes and safe spaces for these kids,” Morse said. “Philly has so many kids who are waiting to be placed in homes, especially older kids, and I knew I needed to be doing something.
“As a gay man, I’m grateful to see so many more people in the community seeing that we’re actually wanted and needed to take part of helping a child find love and stability.”