New federal rules threaten Kentucky children's placement agency


LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) — The Biden Administration has finalized new rules that could threaten the ability of Sunrise Children’s Services and other faith-based agencies to place Kentucky children in foster care.

The rules essentially require that state child welfare agencies and those designated by the state, such as Sunrise, place children who identify as LGBTQI+ only in foster families that support the child’s gender identity, including so-called gender-affirming medical procedures.

The regulations adopted by the Department for Health and Human Services declare “that state child welfare agencies must ensure that LGBTQI+ children have access to specially designated foster care placements.”

The rules spell out:

  • The provider must commit to establishing an environment that supports the child’s LGBTQI+ status or identity; and

  • The provider must be trained with the appropriate knowledge and skills to provide for the needs of the child related to the child's self-identified sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression; and

  • The provider must facilitate the child's access to age- or developmentally-appropriate resources, services, and activities that support their health and well-being.

Dale Suttles, president of Sunrise Children’s Services, said the impact of the regulations is still being assessed but it could be “devastating.”

“I think often Sunrise is put in a negative light because we're a faith-based organization. But we're also an organization that has had many, many adoptions too — and those kids are growing up to be highly successful,” he said.

“So, I think there's room at the table for lots of different organizations to serve children, and we just want a seat at the table. We feel like this could be devastating for Sunrise if it's implemented the way that we interpret it could be.”

Suttles said the new rules could potentially cut Christian families out of the foster care system.

“We're an organization that has had over 700 adoptions and many of them coming from families, Christian families, that have loved children,” Suttles said. “And for us, all of those families would be disqualified if they were in this present place and time with this regulation. We think it's wrong. We think it's bad government.”

The rules come at a time when Kentucky is already experiencing a shortage of foster families, with some children being temporarily housed in state office buildings.

“Sunrise just wants to serve children,” Suttles said. 

Kentucky Attorney General Russell Coleman said his office is “closely reviewing” the regulations to determine how to respond.

“Kentucky is failing at the basics as our foster children sleep on the floors of state office buildings. The Biden Administration’s response to this crisis is a burdensome rule that actually makes it harder for religious-based organizations and families of faith to care for children,” Coleman said in a statement.

“For more than 150 years, Sunrise Children’s Services has put its religious principles into action by providing high-quality services for foster parents and children. Now, because the Biden Administration disapproves of its beliefs, Sunrise will be relegated to a second-class status and families will face additional hurdles in opening their homes to children.

“The Biden Administration’s regulation should be concerning to all people of faith because it keeps children out of loving homes and adds unnecessary strains to the foster care system.”

Suttles said he would not be surprised if the new rules trigger a flurry of lawsuits.

“Sunrise and its dedicated foster families will not rest until this travesty is thrown out by the courts,” he said.

Suttles is asking Kentucky Baptists and other Christians to pray.

“I would just ask folks to go to prayer. Pray for Sunrise and pray for other faith-based organizations that will have a real problem with this regulation.”


This story first appeared in Kentucky Today.