Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois announced Monday it would work with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services to transfer its 290 foster care cases to other agencies as it prepares to stop providing foster care services. Meanwhile, two other religious charities in Illinois have set up independent nonprofit groups to take their cases after a five-month legal battle that questioned the intent of the state’s new civil union law.
Steven Roach, executive director of Catholic Charities in Springfield, said in a prepared statement that the charity will no longer provide foster care services and will have to lay off caseworkers and close local offices. Roach said Catholic Charities will work with DCFS to find jobs for laid-off workers at other service providers, and the charity will now focus on its other areas of service. Roach could not be reached for further comment.
In June, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) informed Catholic Charities organizations around the state that it would not renew the charities’ contracts to provide foster care and adoption services. DCFS believes the charities did not comply with the state’s civil union law because they did not place children in homes with unmarried couples, including same-sex couples.
The Springfield, Joliet and Peoria dioceses of Catholic Charities sued DCFS to force the renewal of their contracts. Catholic Social Services of Southern Illinois, located in Belleville, joined the lawsuit in July. Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Schmidt ruled against the Catholic groups in August, saying the charities’ decades-old relationship with DCFS did not create a right to contract with the state. The Springfield, Joliet and Belleville charities appealed, but Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Peoria quit the lawsuit in October.
The Peoria diocese is one of two Catholic groups to set up independent nonprofit groups to take over their caseloads. The newly-created Center for Youth and Family Solutions, which the Peoria diocese said has no allegiance to the Catholic church, is in the process of taking over about 1,000 foster care cases from the diocese.
Catholic Social Services of Southern Illinois announced last week that it would quit the lawsuit and dissociate itself from the Catholic Diocese of Belleville, forming a new group named Christian Social Services of Illinois. Interim executive director Gary Huelsmann said the new independent group will comply with the civil union law as it takes over the 575 remaining cases handled by the Belleville diocese. That charity previously handled up to 650 cases at a time before DCFS stopped referring new cases to them, Huelsmann said.
“It boiled down to what would be in the best interests of the people we serve,” Huelsmann said of the decision to split from the Catholic church. “With the loss of the majority of our funding from the state of Illinois, it impacted not only that program, but all our other programs in a very negative way, potentially toward bankruptcy. We decided that we wanted to land on the side of our clients.”
While the Peoria and Belleville dioceses created independent groups to take their caseloads, the Joliet, Springfield and Rockford dioceses opted to leave the transition in DCFS’ hands. The Springfield and Joliet dioceses announce their decision this week, and Catholic Charities for the Diocese of Rockford in Illinois left the foster care business in May.
Glenn Van Cura, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Joliet, said his agency previously handled about 400 foster care cases at a time. He said that number is down to about 250 now because the state no longer refers new cases to his agency.
“We will be working with DCFS as they develop their plan to make the transition as smooth as possible,” Van Cura said.
During the Illinois General Assembly’s fall veto session, the Catholic groups hoped to see passage of a bill that would have created a specific exemption in the civil union law for religious foster care agencies. A bill sponsored by Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, would have allowed religious groups to decline applications for foster care or adoption from parties to a civil union if processing such applications would compromise the groups’ religious beliefs. The bill gained support among several Republicans and one Democrat, but it was never called for a vote.
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