Kentucky AG rebukes federal foster care rule requiring “safe” placements for LGBTQ youth

Kentucky’s attorney general this week rebuked a Biden Administration rule change that requires foster and adoption care agencies to place LGBTQ+ youth in supportive environments in order to receive “safe and proper care.”

The U.S. Department for Health and Human Services’ “Safe and Appropriate Foster Care Requirements,” first proposed last September and slated to take effect July 1, would require LGBTQ youth be given the option to be placed with foster care providers “trained to meet their specific needs related to their sexual orientation and gender identity, and who would facilitate access to age-appropriate services to support their health and well-being.”

Attorney General Russell Coleman, a first-term Republican, publicly opposed the new rules Thursday, saying they “penalize” and “disfavor” religiously-affiliated foster care and adoption agencies, like Kentucky Baptist-run Sunrise Children’s Services.

Coleman called the rules “burdensome” and said they will make it “harder for religious-based organizations and families of faith to care for children.”

Under the new federal rules, not every foster care agency would need to meet these specific, tailored needs for LGBTQ youth, and an organization that can’t meet those needs would not be penalized.

But supportive placements must be made available to LGBTQ minors as an option, since that population experiences “significant disparities in the child welfare system.”

Additionally, the new rules clarify that a LGBTQ foster child’s placement be free from “harassment, mistreatment, abuse” and retaliation, “regardless of whether the child was in a specially designated ‘Safe and Appropriate’ placement.”

Sunrise, Coleman said, “has put its religious principles in action by providing high-quality services for foster parents and children.

“Now, because the Biden Administration disapproves of its beliefs, Sunrise will be relegated to a second-class status and families will face additional hurdles in opening their homes to children.”

Sunrise is operated by Kentucky Baptist Convention and is contracted by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services to provide foster and adoption care.

One of the largest and oldest Christian foster care agencies in the commonwealth, Sunrise refused to initially sign its 2021 state contract because of language that banned discrimination against LGBTQ individuals.

Sunrise eventually signed the agreement after Kentucky nixed “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” from the contract that also banned discrimination based on race, religion, sex, age or disability. The executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention at the time told the Courier Journal that it came down to a “deeply-held religious conviction” that homosexuality is a sin, which is why the organization doesn’t place youth with same-sex foster or adoptive parents.

Separately that year, Sunrise agreed to settle a lawsuit dating back to 2000 brought by former Sunrise staff, the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky and Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The lawsuit alleged Sunrise had perpetrated LGBTQ discrimination and religious coercion of youth under its care.

Dale Suttles, CEO of Sunrise, said in a statement issued by Coleman’s office Thursday that the Biden rule is “big and bad government at its worst.”

“It will drive foster parents and foster homes out of the mission of helping kids when there is already a severe shortage,” said Suttles, who did not respond to emailed questions from the Herald-Leader as of Friday afternoon.

“Sunrise and its dedicated foster families will not rest until this travesty is thrown out by the courts.”

This is the second federal policy aimed at supporting LGBTQ individuals that Coleman has come out in opposition of this week.

The other is a proposed rule change to Title IX, the longstanding policy prohibiting sex-based harassment and discrimination in educational settings receiving public dollars. The U.S. Department of Education plans to broaden the law’s application to also stop discrimination and harassment based on gender identity, sexual orientation and sex characteristics.

Coleman and five other Republican attorneys general sued the DOE Tuesday over the regulatory change. Coleman said the rule change to include protections for LGBTQ people would “rip away 50 years of Title IX’s protections for women and put entire generations of young girls at risk.”

Suing over the foster and adoption care agency regulatory change might not be out of the question, either, he implied.

“The Biden Administration’s regulation should be concerning to all people of faith because it keeps children out of loving homes and adds unnecessary strains to the foster care system” Coleman said. “We are closely reviewing the rule to decide how to respond.”

This story may be updated.