In response to a series of recent complaints, the ACLU of Nebraska has issued a reminder to the state Department of Health and Human Services that it must ensure that foster parents honor the religious faith of children in state care.
“Religion, or the lack thereof, can play an important role in the lives of children," the ACLU said in the reminder, adding that both the Nebraska and U.S. supreme courts have recognized the importance of parents in the religious education and training of children.
“The case history and departmental regulations are very clear here — a child in state custody should be raised in a manner consistent with the faith of the parents,” ACLU of Nebraska Legal Director Amy Miller said in a news release.
“Decades of social science literature show that continued connection with culture and community helps make out-of-home care less traumatic for children. While we are hopeful that our recent complaints are isolated incidents, we would encourage any parents with children in foster care to contact us if they have concerns about the religious experiences of their children.”
ACLU staff attorney Joel Donahue said the complaints come from families with parents who are atheist, Jewish or Christian. Once the children were removed from foster care and returned to their parents, they began to ask their parents if they were going to hell because of things they heard from their temporary foster parents.
“Clearly, the children in foster care were being taught religious values which do not fit with their parents' religion,” said Donahue. “The state, through foster parents, should not be inserting itself into religious teachings that are up to the parents.”
Thomas Pristow, director of Children and Family Services for HHS, said he agrees that respecting the religious belief of foster children and their families is important.
“Our regulation is designed to protect religious beliefs, and DHHS employees and providers are expected to fully comply with this regulation," he said in a statement. "We are concerned to hear the ACLU’s allegations and will ask the ACLU to provide DHHS with case-specific information, so that DHHS may conduct a proper investigation and take any necessary corrective action.”
The ACLU has no plans for legal action, but said it would consider taking action if it receives additional complaints.