Bill would force
foster families to honor
child’s religion

Foster families would have to respect and maintain the religion of a child's birth parents under legislation being considered in the state House.

Under the bill, which was heard yesterday by the House Human Services and Housing Committee, the state Department of Human Services would be responsible for making sure that foster care providers comply with the law.

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"We've been reacting to public outcry on religious practices, and we thought it was worthy to bring it to a public forum," said committee Chairman Michael Kahikina (D, Kalaeloa-Nanakuli).

The committee deferred a decision on the bill until tomorrow.

Kahikina said he was unaware if similar legislation exists in other states and said he was awaiting research on the issue from the bill's advocates.

Foster care providers would be required to honor the instructions from a foster child's family with regard to the child receiving religious instruction, attending services and participating in religious activities.

The law also would allow the child to worship with his or her family independent of any visitation schedule, so long as there is no identifiable risk to the child.

Though it took no position on the bill, the state Judiciary said it was concerned that the measure does not consider all other complex factors that must be made with respect to a child's well-being.

"Even with the best intentions of all parties, limited resources will dictate whether an activity can take place," 1st District Family Court Judge Kenneth Enright said in testimony on behalf of the Judiciary.

The Hawaii Foster Parent Association said many problems could be avoided if better attention were paid to religion when placing a child in foster care.

As of Sept. 30, 1,168 foster homes were those of relatives or other people known to the child, compared with 679 general license, or "stranger," homes, according to the association.

"Thus, the majority of children are being placed with relatives, whom one might assume are of a similar religious heritage as the child," association Executive Director Sarah Casken said in written testimony.

Human Services Director Lillian Koller said her department supports the measure so long as it does not adversely affect the state budget.


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