Tolerance: A One-Way Street in Philadelphia?

Tolerance: A One-Way Street in Philadelphia?
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The Quinn home in Philadelphia is quiet for the first time in 30 years. No kids playing; no healthy cries of babies. The silence came after the City of Philadelphia stopped referring children for foster care with families like the Quinns, who are certified by Catholic Social Services (CSS). The Quinn home in Philadelphia is quiet now, and the silence is deafening.

Earlier this year, the city demanded CSS agree to endorse same-sex couples as foster parents. Citing centuries-old Catholic teaching on marriage and the family, CSS refused, but said it would instead refer same-sex couples to one of the other 29 foster-care agencies partnering with the city. For the city, however, retaining a long-standing partner in the care of needy kids was apparently less important than scoring political points. The city refused to refer children in need of foster care to CSS for placement and has threatened to terminate its contract with CSS entirely. Tolerance, it seems, is a one-way street in Philadelphia. 

Karen Quinn has been a CSS-certified foster mother for 30 years. Her Catholic faith has played a large role in her work fostering children. “When people ask me ‘Why do you do it?’ I respond that my faith teaches me to respond, ‘Why not?’,” she says. “I can’t help the whole world, but I can help one baby at a time.”

Quinn is among the foster mothers and former foster-care children who have joined the Catholic Association in supporting CSS’s legal challenge to the Philadelphia dictate. In an amicus brief submitted last week to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, they shared their experiences working with CSS or growing up in CSS-certified foster homes and their opposition to the city’s attempt to effectively shut down CSS’ century-old foster-care program.

Karen “lost count” of how many foster children she and her husband have cared for over three decades. She said she thinks the number is “well over 30.” Of these, the Quinns have adopted 5 and are legal guardians of another.

Karen started caring for foster children after reading a request in her parish bulletin for long-term foster-care providers for a needy child named Jamie. Jamie is now 34 years old and knows “very little about the reasons for being placed into foster care.” But Jamie’s recollection of her life at the Quinns could not be clearer: “lots of one-on-one time playing cards or memory games” and “lots of great memories.”

Like many foster children, Jamie struggled as a child. The early years of abuse had taken their toll. “Being a foster kid was hard,” she says. “Growing up in the Quinn’s home I always knew that I was loved, but it took me a long time to accept that.” The Quinns adopted Jamie, and when she talks about them she calls them “Mom and Dad.”

As the oldest child in the Quinn home, Jamie saw first-hand the damage that unhealthy homes had inflicted on the new children placed with the Quinns. “You can tell right off the bat what kind of home a child came from,” she says. “Lots of [these] kids were not held.” That changed once these children arrived at the Quinns: They were “spoiled” with affection. “Any child that comes into my parents’ home is receiving a good home,” Jamie says. “My parents were very accepting of everyone.” 

Jamie cannot understand the CSS-intake freeze. “It is not like this issue suddenly came up. This has been part of what the Catholic Church has taught forever.” Even more distressing is the freeze’s impact on the Quinn house. “My mom is waiting for that call at 3 a.m. in the morning, on the off chance that someone is going to need her for 3 hours or 3 years.”

Like many CSS-certified foster parents, Karen Quinn is ready to receive more children. “This is very frustrating to me,” she says. “I would like to continue service, but I don’t want to do it without the support of Catholic Social Services.” 

Of course, Karen will survive the new silence at her Philadelphia home. But what about the little boys and girls who need safe shelter at three in the morning or a loving foster-care family for a year or more? Has the City of Philadelphia forgotten their needs? This is why Jamie is ready to “fight the good fight” to keep CSS open. “I gotta keep fighting for all these other kids,” she says, “so that they can have the life I had.”

Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is Legal Advisor for The Catholic Association Foundation.

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