Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Catholic Charities revamps adoptions


San Francisco Archbishop George Niederauer approved Catholic Charities' new adoption policies. Photo: Rick Gerharter
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Crafting a solution that key players say will allow the local agency to continue to help foster children without violating local LGBT nondiscrimination laws or orders from the Vatican, Catholic Charities of San Francisco has partnered with the local organization Family Builders by Adoption to help match kids in need with prospective parents of all backgrounds and sexual orientations.

The partnership calls for Catholic Charities to end its direct adoption program but dedicate those staff members and resources toward expanding the Family Builders project known as California Kids Connection, an online resource at where families can access profiles and photographs of children who need homes. Catholic Charities also will expand outreach efforts to Bay Area parishes to advertise the partnership and communicate the need for more adoptive families.

Although the press release did not mention LGBT families or antigay statements from the Vatican (last year, top Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo said same-sex adoption was "an act of moral violence" against a child), the move clearly is a way to ensure that LGBT families will not be denied adoption opportunities while also allowing Catholic Charities to remain a part of adoption efforts, albeit without the same state funding it receives to run direct adoptions. Forfeiting direct adoption duties means Catholic Charities would make no decisions about child placement and thus not be in the position of directly condoning what the Catholic Church does not support.

"Our focus has always been that kids in the foster care system need parents. While a lot of gay and lesbian parents did not come knocking down our doors, a few of them came, and we served them, because they fit the criteria," Brian Cahill, executive director of Catholic Charities of San Francisco, told the Bay Area Reporter. "What's interesting is that in our view, we don't pay any attention to that. It only came onto the radar after it became an issue in Rome. God love all adoptive parents, especially those who adopt children who are difficult to place. We should be praising them all regardless of sexual orientation and thanking them for what they are doing."

Still, the pressure to do something had been increasing, as witnessed by the decision in March by Catholic Charities of Boston to end its adoption program completely when faced with the choice than between state law or church mandates.

"There is no way we would ever consider anything that is discriminatory," Cahill said, adding that his organization includes openly LGBT employees, some of whom are parents. "If we were precluded from helping gay or lesbian parents then we would not be able to work with anyone. So rather than shut it down, we came up with something. The good news is that the new archbishop [Most Rev. George H. Niederauer, D.D, Ph.D.] was very pastoral and gave us an opportunity to develop a creative solution to serve everyone."

The agreement was hammered out after months of meetings and consultations between the organizations, community members, and elected officials. Under the terms of the partnership, Catholic Charities will provide three staff people to Family Builders by October 1, so that California Kids Connection can dramatically increase the number of children it is able to profile on the site, including the kids who otherwise would have been placed directly by Catholic Charities. The Catholic Charities staff members will work out of the original Oakland location of Family Builders (though Family Builders did recently secure a separate city contract that enabled a San Francisco office to open to deliver other services).

"There's more than 80,000 kids in our foster care system, and we've only been able to profile just a couple hundred of them. We just don't have the resources to get more kids on there," said Jill Jacobs, executive director of Family Builders, noting that the addition of Catholic Charities to Kids Connection means the site will eventually go from 200 to 800 kids. "With this partnership we will more than double our staff over there, and ultimately, quadruple the number of kids on there."

Catholic Charities currently budgets about $450,000 for its adoption programs, most of it delivered through the state (it is not contracted with the city for adoption services). The organization plans to continu

Jill Jacobs, director of Family Builders by Adoption. Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland
e serving its pre-existing clients (of undetermined sexualities) until direct adoption is phased out, and once it is no longer running both programs, expects to budget abut $250,000 for adoption work through Family Builders.

Catholic Charities will still work with and help the same pool of children it always has, it will simply "be tapping into our connection in order to place these kids," said Jacobs. "What they can't do anymore is be working with the families that would adopt them. They can't be making placement decisions."

Through Kids Connection, said Jacobs, placement decisions are actually made by the counties.

Although Catholic Charities will be losing one aspect of its adoption services, Cahill noted that the agency has only placed about 25 children per year in the last five years. About five of those families were known to have same-sex households, while the sexuality of single parents has often been unknown.

Partnering with Family Builders actually will allow Catholic Charities to help even more children than before, he emphasized.

"It's impossible not to use the word 'irony' in this situation. Out of what could have been a crisis came a great opportunity," said Cahill. "We actually are going to increase our role in adoptions. And working with Family Builders will actually help them double and triple the number of kids who are up on their Web site."

The Catholic Charities partnership may even result in more LGBT families adopting children than before.

Positive spin?

"We're about the gayest adoption agency in the country," Jacobs told the B.A.R., noting that it was important for her organization to make sure Catholic Charities "really knew who we were, and that in our own adoption program more than half the families we serve are LGBT families."

Although Kids Connection children are placed by county departments rather than her specifically gay-friendly organization, she and her board still were cautious about the arrangement compromising their agency. But it is clear, she said, that "there's a huge difference between Catholic Charities and the folks in Rome issuing the edict. Twenty-five years ago at the start of the AIDS epidemic Catholic Charities was one of the only organizations willing to do ministry to the dying. It has always been a friend and supporter of the LGBT community, and that hasn't changed."

Jacobs characterized the solution as "a win-win for everybody. [Catholic Charities] still gets to be involved with children in foster care, we get to expand this program, and kids get families." 

Cahill acknowledged that the news may be met with skepticism.

"I can see where people say this is a 'spin,' but I would respectfully disagree. This is a tangible increase in our role," said Cahill of his organization's new direction. Catholic Charities marks 100 years of service next year, and its very first program was adoption, he said. "I'm not going to deny the fact that we were told to stop direct adoption work because of the church's teaching. I'm not trying to hide that, I'm just saying we're doing something really positive and of substance that keeps us where we've always wanted to be, serving the needs of poor and vulnerable marginalized kids.

San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano said the partnership seemed to be the best solution for an imperfect situation.

"In a perfect world we wouldn't have the cardinal trying to muck up and defame same-sex adoption. I thought he was over the top with his remarks about [gay parents] doing violence to children. That's really criminal," Ammiano told the B.A.R. "Given that situation, I think this is a decent solution and it will enhance the number of adoptions in general but also for same-sex couples. I do want to compliment Brian Cahill for crafting this; in Boston they just rolled over and didn't do anything. And so I'd say onward, and upward, and gayly forward."

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