A new bill recently introduced into the New Jersey State Assembly may have broad ramifications for adoption in New Jersey. If passed, the new bill will require the state, the courts and private adoption agencies to maintain a child’s religious background. This new condition would apply to any child being placed with a guardian, into a foster home or into a permanent adoptive home.
The bill does not bar placing a child into a home which practices a different religion. However, the bill does established some requirements that must be fulfilled. The bill states that “to the maximum extent practicable, “a child shall be placed “in an adoptive home of the same religious faith as the child, except at the written request of the child’s birth parent or legal guardian.” In the event that a child is placed into a home with a different religion, a written report must be made explaining why the child was placed into a home of a different faith.
There is also an important distinction in the new bill. When a court or agency places a child into a temporary resource home of a different religion than the child, the bill stipulates that provisions must be in place to continue the child’s religious observance and education. That condition is not required when a child is placed into a permanent adoptive home which practices a different religion than the child.
Assemblyman Gary Schaer, the primary sponsor of the bill, stated “A child’s religious and cultural backgrounds are significant aspects of determining the best interests of the child. That’s why it’s so important that the placement of a child into foster care or adoption should be consistent with their religious and cultural backgrounds, unless it’s proven by convincing evidence that such placement is not in the best interests of the child.”
The other sponsors of the bill, Assembly Members Pamela Lampitt and Upendra Chivukula, echoed Schaer’s statements. Assemblywoman Lampitt noted that, “For many children, religion is a guiding force in their life and a strong part of their inherent identity. This would preserve and protect that identity, which is important, particularly during times of enormous transition such as adoption or foster care.”
If passed, the bill will be an important development for New Jersey adoptions because it uses religion as a criterion for placing a child into a home. However, the bill’s text stresses that when selecting adoptive parents, the prevailing standard shall be the best interests of the child. The bill goes on to stipulate that there shall be no discrimination “with regard to the selection of adoptive parents for any child on the basis of age, sex, race, national origin, religion or marital status provided, however, that these factors may be considered in determining whether the best interests of a child would be served by a particular placement for adoption or adoption.”
The bill has already been approved by the Assembly’s Women and Children Committee and now awaits deliberation by the full Assembly.