Sunrise appealing settlement over placement of foster kids

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) — Sunrise Children’s Services will appeal a settlement reached last week concerning how the state will oversee treatment of foster children placed with private agencies.


The settlement came from a federal lawsuit filed in 2000 alleging religious coercion of children and discrimination of LGBTQ people by Sunrise Children’s Services, a religious-based agency of the Kentucky Baptist Convention that provides foster care, residential and therapeutic services to children and families in crisis.


According to a news release from the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation for Church and State, Kentucky officials have agreed to take steps to try to ensure children are not subject to religious proselytization and discrimination because of sexual orientation,However, Sunrise, which was also a defendant in the lawsuit, disagreed with the settlement and will continue to fight that in court.


U.S. District Judge Charles R. Simpson III dismissed the case last week at the request of the plaintiffs and state officials who place children with Sunrise, the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the Cabinet for Justice and Public Safety.


Sunrise filed notice it will appeal the decision in the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Lawyers for Sunrise said in a previous motion they don’t agree and want a judgment in favor of the agency, saying it has a right to be heard.


The agency has declined to place children with same-sex couples or hire openly gay employees. The lawsuit goes back to 2000, when a former children's worker sued Sunrise and the state, alleging she was fired after the agency learned she was a lesbian.


"In contrast to the ACLU and other out-of-town state advocacy groups that have inserted themselves into this litigation, the people of Kentucky generally recognize the immeasurable value of faith-based child-care providers' investment in the care of Kentucky's abused and neglected children," Sunrise said in a statement.

Cory Shapiro, legal director of ACLU of Kentucky, praised the settlement as “a great outcome for Kentucky’s foster children and for religious freedom.”


In mid-July, Sunrise Children’s Services and the Cabinet for Health and Family Services entered into an agreement to continue placing children and youth with the provider following intense negotiations. The talks stalled as Sunrise would not sign the contract offered by the Cabinet, claiming it would cause them to violate their deeply held religious beliefs. The agency says they receive any child they can help but refers prospective LGBTQ foster parents or employment applicants to other agencies.

The terms of the agreement were the same as the previous contract that Sunrise had with the Cabinet from July 2019 to June 2020. Additionally, Sunrise agreed to refer any service applicants who identify as LGBTQ to another provider in good standing with CHFS


The contract would run through June 30, 2022. CHFS backdated the agreement to take effect on July 1, 2021.


The state dropped the terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” from the contract that also  bans discrimination because of race, religion, sex, age or disability under the agreement.


The state agreed to drop the language after a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June went in favor of a Catholic children’s agency in Philadelphia that declined to accept same-sex couples as foster parents.


“We are proud to be that partner and will continue to do our best to help children and families across this commonwealth,” Sunrise President Dale Suttles said at the time.

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