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Washington State Discriminates Against Foster Parents Who Oppose Gender Ideology

The state of Washington is requiring parents to promote its preferred views about gender ideology if they want to foster children.
Alliance Defending Freedom
Jennifer and Shane DeGross

The state of Washington saw 4,165 children enter its foster-care system during the 2021 fiscal year alone. From 2017 to 2021, the system served over 10,000 children annually.

Washington’s Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) says it wants to establish stable placement for each of these children. To do that, the department has said it seeks to recruit and retain more parents to address a shortage of caregivers.

Washington is particularly hard-pressed to find caregivers who can act as respite-care providers (usually short-term caregivers who provide relief to other families or care for children moving between homes) and who can take in children who are older or have special needs and can be difficult to place. In fact, things are so dire that the department often places children in hotel rooms and other unlicensed facilities. There were 4,570 so-called “placement exceptions” in the 2023 reporting year.

But while DCYF shuffles children between hotels and other unlicensed facilities, it is simultaneously excluding loving families who can stand in the gap for these children. By requiring prospective foster families to parrot the government’s preferred views on issues of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, Washington has unlawfully driven out people like Shane and Jenn DeGross.

Over nine years caring for foster children

As Christians, Shane and Jenn seek to follow the Bible’s command to care for those in need. They’ve felt called to provide foster care for vulnerable children, and they served as foster parents for DCYF from 2013 to 2022.

During that time, the DeGrosses helped care for four different children including a newborn, two 2-year-olds, and a 3-year-old. They provided care for various timeframes spanning from just two weeks to almost two full years. Shane and Jenn always treated all the children they cared for as if they were their own, showing them love and affection regardless of their background or where they came from.

In 2022, Shane and Jenn sought to renew their license, hoping to care for children as respite-care providers. That’s when they learned of the state’s discriminatory new regulations.

Washington requires foster parents to promote gender ideology

When Shane and Jenn began the renewal process with a licensing and child-placement agency, they learned that DCYF had new regulations requiring applicants to adopt the state’s gender ideology as their own.

Shane and Jenn DeGross lost their ability to foster because of their Christian beliefs.

Specifically, the regulations require foster parents to agree to use names and pronouns for hypothetical children that conflict with their biological sex, take children to events like Pride parades, and otherwise promote the state’s preferred views about gender to children.

As Christians, Shane and Jenn believe that God created each person either male or female and that sex cannot be changed. Their Christian beliefs inform their view that people should live consistent with God’s design, so the DeGrosses cannot promote an ideology that claims that a person can choose his or her sex or gender.

State officials ignored a previous court ruling

The First Amendment ensures that Americans cannot be forced to parrot government officials’ preferred views on controversial topics like gender ideology, nor can they be excluded from obtaining a license, including a license to provide foster care, because of their religious beliefs.

In fact, a previous court ruling already enjoined a similar policy in Washington state. In Blais v. Hunter, a couple seeking to foster and potentially adopt their great-granddaughter were denied the opportunity to do so because of their religious beliefs. State officials posed a series of hypothetical questions to the couple to test their beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity—all for a child who was less than a year old. A federal court held that Washington’s policy was unconstitutional and specified that “religious beliefs regarding LGBTQ+ issues cannot serve to disqualify” foster applicants.

Even though Washington officials agreed in a settlement that they would no longer require applicants “to express agreement with any policy regarding LGBTQ+ issues that conflicts with the applicant’s sincerely held religious views,” they have now instituted a similar policy, insisting that parents must be willing to encourage children to reject their biological sex, even if that contravenes the parents’ sincerely held religious beliefs.

DCYF denied Shane and Jenn’s renewal application because the couple could not agree to promote views about gender ideology that conflict with their religious beliefs. This is a clear violation of the First Amendment, contravenes the permanent injunction in Blais v. Hunter, and disserves the thousands of children in Washington’s foster-care system. Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys have filed a lawsuit on the DeGrosses’ behalf.

DeGross v. Hunter

  • October 2022: DCYF denied the DeGrosses’ application to renew their foster license because of their religious beliefs.
  • March 2024: ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit challenging Washington’s unconstitutional requirements for prospective foster parents.