Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Gary Schaer, Pamela Lampitt and Upendra Chivukula that would require private adoption agencies, the courts, and the state to maintain a child’s religious upbringing when placing a child with a guardian, into foster care, or into an adoptive home was approved by an Assembly panel on Monday.
“A child’s religious and cultural backgrounds are significant aspects of determining the best interests of the child,” said Schaer (D-Passaic/Bergen/Essex). “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 legislation (A-2448) would permit agencies and courts to place a child in a setting of a different religion only with a written statement from the child’s birth parent or legal guardian. In the case that such a placement is not feasible or not in the child’s best interest, a written statement will be required explaining the placement decision.
“For many children, religion is a guiding force in their life and a strong part of their inherent identity,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “This would preserve and protect that identity, which is important, particularly during times of enormous transition such as adoption or foster care.”
In cases where a court or an agency places a child into a resource family home of a different religion than the child, the bill requires that provisions be made for the child to continue religious observance, education, and training in the new setting. Such provisions are not required when placing a child into an adoptive home.
“A child’s religion should not be changed because of placement into foster care or into adoption,” said Chivukula (D-Middlesex/Somerset). “Reasonable effort should be made to ensure the continuity of the child’s religious upbringing. It’s the right thing to do.”
Various advocates have expressed support for the measure, including Dr. Aref Assaf, the president of American Arab Forum and an advisory board member of the New Jersey Council on American Islamic Relations and David Mandel, the chief executive officer of Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services, Inc.
The measure was approved by the Assembly Women and Children Committee and now awaits consideration by the full Assembly.