The Commonwealth of Kentucky had existed only 77 years when Sunrise Children's Services was organized. A group of ladies at Walnut Street Baptist Church in Louisville recognized a need to care for orphaned children living on the streets. Their focus was on providing care for children in crisis and Sunrise Children's Services was born.
Since 1869, Sunrise's mission has remained the same. For more than 150 years, this agency of the Kentucky Baptist Convention has cared for Kentucky's children and families through foster care, orphan care, and residential and therapeutic services.
In the late 1970s, Sunrise was approached by the state of Kentucky and asked to help with the increasing number of children in the state's custody. The request aligned with Sunrise's mission and they were eager to help.
Since then, the number of children in the state's custody has steadily risen and Sunrise has been a steady partner. According to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, there were 9,278 children in state care at the end of 2020. Dale Suttles, president of Sunrise Children's Services, says there are nearly 1,000 children receiving care and services from Sunrise. While not all of them are under the state's custody, many of them are. Sunrise has remained a faithful partner to CHFS.
Sunrise is now being forced into a difficult position. Governor Andy Beshear's administration has sent a contract to Sunrise that causes them to violate their deeply held religious convictions if they sign it. Former Governor Steve Beshear and every other governor since has respected Sunrise's religious convictions and offered an addendum to protect Sunrise's convictions.
Kentucky Baptist churches have welcomed the state into their congregation to connect with the potential foster parents they desperately need. Sunrise has worked to train these foster parents and placed thousands of children in these foster families. These caring Kentucky Baptist families have provided a temporary, stable home for children, resulting in nearly 600 adoptions over the last 15 years.
In addition, Sunrise is one of the last child services agencies to provide residential, therapeutic care. Operating multiple facilities across the state is costly, but many children have faced such deep trauma they need intensive care around the clock. Sunrise has not walked away from these children.
If Sunrise can't sign the contract with the state, who will be hurt most? Will it be Sunrise? Maybe the Kentucky Baptist Convention? Perhaps the Commonwealth of Kentucky?
No, it will be the children.
Last week, Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said it well, "But here's where you have to understand. Who pays the price then? It's not going to be the agency because the agency doesn't exist for its own sake, anyway. The persons who will be harmed will be the children who will not have placements, the children who will not be cared for in an agency with the sensitivity, and the effectiveness, and the care, and faithfulness of something like Sunrise Children's Services."
Sunrise recognizes it is not the right fit for everyone. They aren’t trying to force their beliefs on people. If they recognize they aren’t the right agency, they refer the potential foster parent to an agency that can serve them best.
Sunrise only wants to do what they’ve done for the past 152 years – care for children. Governor Andy Beshear and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services should be grateful for their help and give them the addendum they need.
BRANDON PORTER is communications director for the Kentucky Baptist Convention and editor of Kentucky Today.