Councilor challenges state contract with religious organization to recruit foster parents | New Hampshire
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Councilor challenges state contract with religious organization to recruit foster parents

New Hampshire Union Leader

October 11. 2017 11:46PM

MANCHESTER — A $100,000 contract for a faith-based initiative by Bethany Christian Services of Candia to recruit foster and adoptive families was approved by the Executive Council on Wednesday, despite opposition from Democratic Councilor Andru Volinsky of Concord, who questioned if the group would serve gay foster or adoptive parents.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeffrey Meyers told councilors the state has had a contract with Bethany Christian for years, with the support of former Democratic governors John Lynch and Maggie Hassan.

“They are one of a number of organizations the department has worked with to ensure capacity for foster care, which I think everyone knows has been a challenge,” said Meyers, “in part because of the depth and length of the opioid crisis in New Hampshire.”

Volinsky noted that funds for the program come from the federal government, and asked if the contract with Bethany complies with Constitutional prohibitions against excessive entanglement of government and religion.

Attorney General Gordon MacDonald addressed the legal issues, telling the council that the federal government has a long-standing policy of not discriminating against nongovernmental organizations based on their religious character.

“The executive order that was put out by the Obama administration made note of the vital importance of nongovernmental faith-based organizations in delivering social services in our country,” said MacDonald, “and that is an observation that rings true here in New Hampshire.”

When Volinsky asked if Bethany is prepared to support gay and lesbian foster parents, Meyers said, “I have no information that they are not.”

After the council meeting, held at the Founders Academy charter school in Manchester, Volinsky said he was unconvinced.

“I suspect the church itself is not supportive of gay and lesbian foster parents because it would conflict with their religious principles, which is fine,” he said, “but when they are put into a support position for all foster parents that issue comes to mind.”

Volinsky produced a lengthy 2009 article from The Nation and a 2017 report from a Michigan television station on Bethany Christian Services and other crisis pregnancy centers, alleging heavy-handed tactics in dealing with pregnant women who ultimately decide they want to keep their children.

“There’s been some detailed reporting about Bethany in other states, where there have been concerns raised about their treatment in particular of young single mothers, and there’s been some litigation between Bethany and mothers who have changed their minds about giving up their newborns for adoption,” Volinsky said.

Bethany Christian Services is a global organization, and the Candia location is part of the Northern New England unit. It is among the largest adoption agencies in the world, with more than 85 offices in 15 countries, according to its website.

Janice Lessard Peightell, branch director for the Northern New England unit, said the organization helps bring potential foster or adoptive parents to the Division for Children, Youth and Families, which ultimately decides on their qualifications.

“We speak at all kinds of churches and businesses and any community group that will allow us to speak and talk about the great need for foster families,” said Peightell in a telephone interview. “Then they go to the state who decides if they are a great family. Whether they are straight or gay, it’s the state’s decision; we don’t make that decision at all.”

Peightell said the group presents at churches that welcome gay or lesbian members. “Churches aren’t all in agreement on this issue, and churches that are open would have people who are gay or lesbian and the opportunities we discuss would be open to everyone,” she said.

The DHHS posted a request for proposals for a “Community and Faith Based Initiative to Support Foster, Relative and Adoptive Families,” and Bethany was the only applicant.

Under performance measures in the three-year contract, Bethany is required to fulfill at least 500 requests each year for support from foster or adoptive families and their children; and contact at least 60 people each year who express an interest in becoming foster or adoptive parents.

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