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[Australia] – Sydney Morning Herald – “Religious charities putting doctrine above children’s interests” by Jen Vuk

December 30, 2010 Leave a comment

 

The worst harm is done by refusing to allow same-sex couples to foster.

It was with a heavy heart that I read of a landmark ruling earlier this month that gives religious charities the freedom to ban gay foster parents.

The New South Wales Administrative Decisions Tribunal found that Wesley Dalmar Services, the foster-care arm of Wesley Mission, was within its rights to knock back a gay couple who applied in the early 2000s to become foster carers, because their “lifestyle was not in keeping with the beliefs and values of Wesleyanism”.

The charity, a part of the Uniting Church assembly, had successfully argued that its decision was necessary to circumvent damage to its “religious susceptibilities”.

As far as rulings go, it was a classic case of exploiting a loophole. The tribunal intimated that its hands were tied due to “the very broad exemptions in the Anti-Discrimination Act relating to religious groups”.

Following the passing of the Equal Opportunity Bill in Victoria this year, which allows religious groups to continue to discriminate on the basis of “sexuality or marital status if it is in accordance with their beliefs”, the NSW directive is clearly portentous for Victorian gay couples hoping to foster.

Of course, it is a grave disservice to tar all Christian foster-care agencies with the same bias. Uniting Care Burnside, part of the Uniting Church, has long held progressive attitudes towards homosexuality, as has Barnardos. Both have a non-discriminatory policy when looking for safe environments in which to place foster children.

Wesley Mission belongs to a Methodist order of the Uniting Church. It has a long and worthy history of social justice, but the central tenet of its orthodoxy, that marriage between a man and a woman is the cornerstone of family, sits uneasily in a contemporary world.

As many civil liberties groups have been quick to point out, charities such as Wesley that rely on government funding should not be allowed to show such prejudice. It is likely to become more of an issue in NSW over the next four years, as private agencies take over all the foster-care programs run by the Department of Community Services.

But there is something else amiss here, and it’s a trap ready-made for religious charity groups. By putting its charter ahead of its charges, Wesley Mission undermines its mission. While it may indeed have the legislative right to discriminate, the only time it should exercise that right is when a child – and not its doctrine – is at risk.

Furthermore, I can’t understand how a charity can so easily turn a blind eye to the fact that we have long been crying out for foster carers.

In 2005, lobby group the Australian Foster Care Association warned that foster care in Australia was at a crossroads. It urged states and territories to work together to improve “their recruitment strategies to increase the number of foster carers” and put strategies in place to retain them.

And with good reason. Foster care isn’t for the faint-hearted. In addition to the logistical hoops prospective carers are required to jump through (such as police checks and working-with-children checks), different agencies have their own criteria.

While there is some financial recompense for carers, it isn’t a patch on the physical, emotional and spiritual investment of welcoming an often damaged little stranger into your home.

Just think, on the one hand you are encouraged to support and bond with the child. On the other, you must be prepared to let them go, sometimes at a moment’s notice, and knowing the cycle of abuse and neglect will most likely begin anew. Surely, this is the biggest ask of all.

Over the past year, it was estimated that about 34,000 children moved in and out of state care, and the number is growing. For the lucky few – and they are few – there is a happy ending.

Eight years ago, a young sister and brother arrived at the door of Silke Bader and her partner, Tanya Sale. Now aged 11 and 12, the two siblings have had the kind of safe and secure upbringing their 10 brothers and sisters could only dream about.

As Bader told The Sydney Morning Herald: “The argument over same-sex adoption is whether the couples are suitable . . . in this case we certainly stand out as being more suitable.”

Earlier this year, after surveying several children placed with same-sex couples, a NSW parliamentary inquiry found that, above all else, “stability and security” were crucial in fostering a child’s development. The findings led to the same-sex adoption bill being passed in September.

This is why the latest ruling seems not only curious but retrogressive. While definition of family is constantly evolving, one thing remains forever the same: every child has a right to be loved.

Surely it’s time we put children’s rights where they belong – above and beyond all others.

Jen Vuk is a freelance writer.

 

 

[Source: Original Article]

 

Categories: Foster Care

[Australia – New South Wales] – The Australian – “Politicians refuse to act after churches win right to discriminate against gay foster parents”

December 28, 2010 Leave a comment

BOTH the NSW government and opposition have ruled out any changes to the state’s anti-discrimination laws in the wake of a ruling that charities could bar gay couples as foster carers on religious grounds.

In a decision that will open the way for other religious charities to refuse gay couples access to their services, the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal ruled that Wesley Mission’s foster care arm, Wesley Dalmar Services, had proved an exemption under the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act allowing it to discriminate against homosexual couples, reported The Australian.

Wesley Mission, part of the Uniting Church assembly, argued that providing foster care services to gay couples would put at risk its financial and volunteer assistance from members of the mission who adhered to the doctrine that a monogamous heterosexual partnership was “the norm and ideal of the family”.

The decision overturned a ruling that ordered Wesley Mission to take steps to eliminate unlawful discrimination after refusing services to a gay couple.

NSW’s Anti-Discrimination Act – along with similar acts in most states – provides a series of exemptions for religious bodies. The exemptions apply specifically to the ordination and training of priests and ministers.

However, an extremely broad, non-specific exemption also applies to “any act or practice” of a religious body that conforms to that body’s doctrines.

The Administrative Decisions Tribunal described the ability of a religious group to prove an exemption to the act as “singularly undemanding” and noted that “this may be a matter which calls for the attention of parliament”.

However, a spokesman for NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos said yesterday that the legislation struck the right balance between protection from discrimination and the right to religious freedom.

“It is not envisaged that there will be changes to the current exemptions in relation to religious institutions,” the spokesman said.

NSW Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell also ruled out yesterday any move to push for legislative change on the issue if the Liberals win government next March.

Religious exemptions to anti-discrimination laws are also being tested in Victoria in an appeal before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, which must decide whether it was lawful for the Christian Brethren to refuse to allow a gay youth suicide prevention group accommodation at the Christian Youth Camps’ Phillip Island Adventure Resort.

NSW passed laws earlier this year that allowed gay couples to legally adopt children, but allowed church adoption agencies the right to refuse to provide services to gay couples without breaching anti-discrimination laws.

[Source: Original Article]

Categories: Foster Care

[Australia – New South Wales] – Sydney Morning Herald – “Gay foster care ban divides Uniting Church” by AAP

December 27, 2010 Leave a comment

The Uniting Church faces a split over a ruling that has allowed an affiliated charity to stop a gay couple from fostering children.

The couple began a legal battle seven years ago with Wesley Mission Australia, which refused to allow them to become foster parents.

In a landmark decision earlier this month, the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal found in favour of Wesley Mission, which is part of the Uniting Church.

But a spokesman for the church said its members would be split by the decision.

“From the liberal point of view, there will be parts of the church that will be disappointed with this decision,” he told AAP.

“Generally though, the more conservative side of the church will be happy with the decision.”

Uniting Care Burnside is a social justice service that’s also part of the Uniting Church and places foster children in safe homes.

It has a non-discriminatory policy when it comes to placing children in foster care, as does the Department of Community Services (DoCS).

“Community Service foster carers can be single, married, in a de facto or same-sex relationship,” DoCs said in a statement on Monday.

When the tribunal handed down its decision on the recent case, it cited the very broad exemptions in the Anti-Discrimination Act relating to religious groups and suggested parliament consider revising it.

But NSW Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell said there was no need to review the laws as the same-sex adoption bill had been passed in September.

He said “faith-based” services were not the only option for those looking to adopt.

“But because there is choice, because if you’re a same-sex couple you can … seek to adopt a child, I don’t think it’s a big concern,” he told reporters in Sydney.

The case involving Wesley Mission dates back to 2002 when the gay couple lodged a complaint under the Anti-Discrimination Act after an agency refused to allow them to foster a child.

The tribunal initially found in favour of the men in 2007 and awarded them $5,000 each.

But Wesley Mission appealed and a review panel overturned the decision, ruling the tribunal had erred in deciding the mission didn’t have a right to discriminate on religious grounds.

The panel sent the case back to the tribunal, which decided in favour of the Wesley Mission and dismissed the complaint of discrimination.

[Source: Original Article]

 

Categories: Foster Care

[Australian – New South Wales] – NineMSN – “No need to change foster laws: O’Farrell”

December 27, 2010 Leave a comment

 

Gay couples are able to legally adopt children in NSW so there’s no need to review NSW’s anti-discrimination laws, says Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell.

His comments follow a ruling in favour of a religious organisation which refused to foster children to same-sex parents.

The NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal earlier this month found in favour of Wesley Mission Australia, which wouldn’t allow a gay couple to become foster parents.

But the tribunal suggested parliament may wish to review the Anti-Discrimination Act, which it based its decision on.

Mr O’Farrell on Monday said there was no need to review the laws as the same-sex adoption bill had been passed in September.

“The concern with this decision would have been if the only adoption services in NSW were faith-based,” Mr O’Farrell told AAP on Monday.

“But because there is choice, because if you’re a same-sex couple you can … seek to adopt a child, I don’t think it’s a big concern.”

Under the new adoption legislation, church adoption agencies were granted the right to refuse to provide services to gay and lesbian couples without breaching anti-discrimination laws.

[Source: Original Article]

 

Categories: Foster Care

[Australia – New South Wales] – Sydney Morning Herald – “Gays can still foster kids, DoCS says” by AAP

December 27, 2010 Leave a comment

 

A NSW government department says there are plenty of opportunities for same sex couples to foster children, despite a recent ruling allowing religious charities to ban gays from becoming foster parents.

A gay couple began a legal battle seven years ago with Wesley Mission Australia, which refused to allow them to become foster parents.

However, the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal found in favour of the Wesley Mission earlier this month.

The tribunal found that the mission was exempt from the NSW Anti Discrimination Act on religious grounds.

But a statement from the Department of Community Services (DoCS) should g]ve the gay couple hope, as it makes clear that the department accepts gay couples as foster parents.

“Community Service foster carers can be single, married in a de facto or same sex relationship,” the statement read.

DoCS puts its emphasis on the need for foster carers to provide “a safe, nurturing and secure family environment” and states that anyone in good physical and emotional health can apply to become a foster carer.

The case involving the Wesley Mission dates back to 2002 when the two gay men lodged a complaint under the Anti Discrimination Act after an agency operated by the mission refused to allow them to foster a child.

The Administrative Decisions Tribunal initially found in favour of the men in 2007 and awarded them $5,000 each.

But the Wesley Mission appealed and a review panel overturned the decision, ruling that the tribunal had erred in deciding the mission did not have a right to discriminate on religious grounds.

The panel sent the case back to the tribunal, which decided earlier this month in favour of the Wesley Mission, and dismissed the complaint of discrimination.

An affidavit supplied to the tribunal by the Wesley Mission, which follows the Methodist doctrines of the 18th-century preacher John Wesley, says: “The Methodist doctrine is based on the belief that God’s pattern for family relationships includes a union between a man and a woman.

“For Wesley Mission to appoint homosexual couples as foster carers would be fundamentally unacceptable to the Methodist doctrine and would be viewed as an abdication of its responsibility to uphold the word of God as understood by Methodism.”

The Wesley Mission is a parish of the Uniting Church, but the church allows its parishes to make their own decisions on matters involving homosexuality.

[Source: Original Article]

 

Categories: Foster Care

[Australia – New South Wales] – The Daily Telegraph – “Church free to ban gay foster parents” by Joe Hilderbrand

December 27, 2010 Leave a comment

 

Cardinal George Pell

CHURCH groups are free to discriminate against homosexuals after a landmark judgment in which a tribunal ruled religious charities are allowed to ban gay foster parents.

The ruling, made in the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal, has been hailed by the Catholic Church but has outraged civil libertarians, who are demanding religions no longer be exempt from anti-discrimination laws if they receive public money, reported The Daily Telegraph.

The Council of Civil Liberties suggested more children might end up in orphanages because church-based service providers could now knock back couples who did not conform to their beliefs.

Even the tribunal itself, whose judgment came down in favour of the ban, said it was effectively bound to reach the decision because of the very broad exemptions in the Anti-Discrimination Act relating to religious groups.

And, it went as far as suggesting that Parliament may wish to revise those laws.

The decision marks the end of a seven-year legal battle for a gay couple who attempted to become foster carers through Wesley Mission Australia but were knocked back because their lifestyle was not in keeping with the beliefs and values of Wesleyanism, a Methodist order of the Uniting Church.

The ADT initially awarded the couple $10,000 and ordered the charity to change its practices so it did not discriminate but an appeals panel set aside that decision and ordered the tribunal to reconsider the matter.

The tribunal then said it had little choice but to find that the discrimination was “in conformity” with the church’s doctrine because the test in the law “is singularly undemanding”.

Council of Civil Liberties president Cameron Murphy said churches who received taxpayers money to provide services for the state -as was increasingly the case -should no longer be exempt from discrimination laws.

“It’s outrageous,” he said. “If a non-religious organisation tried to do this they would be in breach of the law.

“If they want to run a foster care agency they ought to be looking after the best interests of the child, not trying to push their religion on the community.

Cardinal George Pell welcomed the decision and said churches must be able to choose who they wanted to use in the provision of services.

Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann said it was high time groups were no longer able to discriminate for religious reasons. 

A spokesman for Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell said if the matter came before Parliament the Liberal Party would allow a conscience vote.

[Source: Original Article]

 

Categories: Foster Care

Southern Star – "From Diesel and Dolce to PJs and puzzles" by Peter Cross

December 24, 2008 Leave a comment

Last Monday we went to some friends’ place for dinner.

Normally this isn’t newsworthy but over a year ago Matt and Peter fostered two boys, T and J, brothers in need of love and stability. When they were going through the process we all said, “isn’t that wonderful, what a great thing to do … are they mad!” None of us thought through the implications and responsibilities. I don’t think even Matt and Peter did.

We turned up for dinner at their beautifully restored New York-style high ceilinged,inner city apartment. What once was a room of clear surfaces and clean lines was now an obstacle course of puzzles, Bob the Builder, toys and plastic children’s chairs. Flannelette pyjamas versus Abercrombie and Fitch. It’s gone from Sex and the City to Malcolm in the Middle. It feels and smells like a family home now. Dinner was in the oven, two tables were set, one for the boys and one for the “old” boys.

Matt and Peter have taken two brothers, both under ten, who’ve had a tough time of it, and provided them with a safe environment where they are experiencing nurturing and love for possibly the first time in their short lives. This is an act of total selflessness.

After the boys had been fed and bathed, “Grandpa” Michael read them a bedtime story and when they were safely tucked up in their beds, the adults sat down to dinner. I asked Peter and Matt how they were coping.

Their lives have changed dramatically. Things that were once important are now irrelevant. No more smart restaurants and opening nights — now it’s soccer practice and parent-teacher meetings. Lazy Sunday mornings reading the paper in bed are a fond memory when you have two Energiser bunnies waking up at dawn and wanting to rumble. The boys don’t know the meaning of downtime.

None of it’s easy. It’s a constant twenty-four hour seven day a week focus. It’s made Matt and Peter a much stronger couple who talk and more importantly, listen to each other. They have a common purpose outside of themselves, something much bigger than their own needs.

I cannot imagine where they have found the resources to achieve what they have. There’s been no nine-month pregnancy preparation. The boys landed fully formed and damaged in their laps. There have been hard times when it has seemed overwhelming. Peter travels a lot for work and T and J have not been easy. As Matt said one night, “Mommy Dearest only tells one side of the story”. He was joking but I think at that stage he was lost in the enormity of this force that has taken over his life. And yet both of them have maintained and grown their own careers.

The boys’ lives have changed dramatically as well, from abuse and anger to love and compassion. They had been shunted from one home to another. Now at last they have stability.

There is a photo of J pinned to a once-pristine beam of hardwood in the lounge room; it shows a clear-eyed, open-faced soulful child staring straight into the lens of the camera. There is no artifice, no agenda and no lie in his eyes as he stares back at you. The photo was taken on one of the first days when J felt safe enough to again look anyone directly in the face. He was so used to seeing anger, judgement and threat, now he saw love and security. It’s one of the most moving pictures that I’ve ever seen.

The change in all four of these “boys” is enormous.

Matt and Peter don’t expect or seek approval for what they are doing. I know how embarrassed they will be when they read this. They don’t think of reward or recognition. They do it because they can’t not do it. They all have grown in so many ways not only as individuals but as a couple and as a family. They are still Peter and Matt but … more.

Now that’s a Christmas.

[Link: Original Article]

Categories: Foster Care