I am a doctoral candidate in social welfare at Yeshiva University, and I teach child and family welfare at YU’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work. I am writing in response to the Dec. 23 article “Bill aims to maintain adoptee’s religion.”
The proposed bill gets at the very essence of understanding why culture needs to be considered in placing children in foster care, as well as adoptive and pre-adoptive homes. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Research tells us that children who receive culturally appropriate services have better outcomes than children who do not. On the face of it, then, the proposed bill seems like a good idea.
By definition, child welfare is tasked with making decisions based on the “best interest” of the child. Existing policies that play into determining this include placing children in permanent families as quickly as possible, placing them with families that can provide them with social advantages, preserving the family unit when possible, and cultural continuity. How these joint policies play out in any one case is dependent upon a host of factors. In an ideal world, it would be advantageous to place every Jewish child who needs care in a suitable Jewish home, but reality tells us this is not possible in all circumstances. The same is true for other cultural factors, including race and preferred language.
I believe that if this bill became law, it could have deleterious unintended consequences. For example, it is difficult enough to recruit suitable families to care for children from the public child welfare system. Imagine the difficulty of building a large enough pool of prospective families that represent the myriad religions and levels of religiosity that would be necessary for such a law to work. There are many other examples of what is wrong with this bill.
Helping children maintain their cultural and religious practices in foster care or adoptive homes is incredibly important, but to require it in all cases may not, in fact, be in the best interest of children.