Illinois Catholic Charities' foster care faces shutdown
By Marianne Medlin
Robert Gilligan
Robert Gilligan

.- Illinois Catholic Charities' foster care services may eventually cease to exist after a local judge refused to change his ruling that the state has the right to stop referring children to charities in four dioceses.

“If you don't have new referrals, the system basically just atrophies,” Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Illinois Catholic Conference, told CNA on Sept. 27.

“We can't continue to fight this in court if there are no children in the system.”

On Sept. 26, Illinois Circuit Court Judge John Schmidt reiterated his Aug. 18 ruling, which held that “no citizen has a recognized legal right to a contract with the government.”

Because of this, he explained, the state had no obligation to renew a long-standing arrangement with Catholic Charities in the dioceses, as it had annually for over 40 years.

Although the four dioceses are now seeking to appeal the decision in an appellate court and even the Illinois Supreme Court if necessary, Gilligan said that state departments are moving quickly to find other agencies to replace Catholic Charities' foster care services.

“I think it's pretty clear to all of us who are really close to this issue” that the state “is moving on,” Gilligan said.

“They are actively recruiting other child welfare agencies to provide care for children who are currently being provided care by Catholic Charities.”

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services previously told Catholic Charities that it was ending the contract over Catholic Charities' alleged refusal to obey the 2011 Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Unions Act, which established legal privileges for same-sex and opposite-sex couples in civil unions.

Because of the recent court decisions, faith based agencies “are now basically barred from contracting with the state because they believe that children are best with a mother and a father,” Gilligan said.

Not only are foster parents going to “suffer” the effects of this, he added, but the “children who are currently receiving care will experience another disruption to their already fragile lives.”

Catholic Charities in the four dioceses of Belleville, Springfield, Peoria, and Joliet are now seeking a stay in court that would allow children who need foster homes to still be referred to them.

“If we can't get a court to stay these decisions in order to continue receiving children, I don't think we're going to be able to continue in a legal process,” he said.

Gilligan recalled that the state of Illinois has a history of dependence on faith-based organizations. He noted how Catholic, Jewish and Lutheran agencies helped the state's once severely disorganized child and family services department go from having 46,000 children in the foster care system in 1997 to only 16,000 today.

But, ironically, Gilligan added, the same religious values that led these agencies to help in such a drastic way are now being penalized by the state.

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