Religion's Place In Foster Care


July 19, 2012

By Alex Apodaca

A new bill introduced in New Jersey would mandate that children in foster care be placed with foster families who share the same religion "to the maximum extent practicable." The bill was proposed after a Christian family took a Muslim foster child to a Christian church, forbid him from going to a mosque, changed his name, and tried to end visits from his Muslim parents.  All of which is already unallowed in the New Jersey state foster system.

On paper, it's easy to see how this bill would be a good thing for foster children. Foster children already go through a lot of trauma going from home to home. The transition would be a lot easier if their new family celebrated the same holidays, had the same traditions, and had the same values. In practice, however, this bill will ultimately fail the foster system.

The definition of religion is subjective. According to any religious studies course, both Buddhism and Scientology are religious movements, but if you ask any Buddhist or Scientologist, they would say its an 'alternate way of thinking' rather than a religion.  It would be too difficult to determine what falls under the definition of a 'religion.'
Also, what about Christians? Around 75% of the
United States population is Christian, but inside Christianity there are over 38,000 different denominations. Many are too small and insignificant to categorize, but even the major denominations under the umbrella of Christianity view themselves as different from the rest. Many Protestants do not view Mormons as Christians, but Mormons view themselves as the truest of Christians.  Also, Catholics, even though by definition are Christian, view themselves as separate from Protestants since Protestants "protested" against the Catholic Church in its beginnings. What one person considers "Christian" another might not. 

Let's not forget about Zoroastrianism, Judaism, or Hinduism.  All are smaller religions in the
U.S. but still have a significant presence. How do we match up children to these religions? The child might have to make a significant move in order to find a foster family of the same religion.Not to mention the countless smaller religions and new religious movements of the U.S.  Should they not be considered if they don't have a large enough following? And who is in charge of deciding what religions are large enough to consider?

This bill is just not practical. Although religion usually plays a major role in a child's life, the first priority of the foster care system should be placement with a loving and caring family.  The state already makes a "reasonable effort" to place children with a family of the same religion.  These new terms could send the foster care system on a wild goose chase to find families that fit their religious guidelines, making the child's wait for a family even longer. Any bill that makes foster child placement more difficult should not be passed.





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