Trump with kids

On June 24, Donald Trump issued an Executive Order (EO) under the title, Strengthening the Child Welfare System for America’s Children.Except for those whom the EO affects, it has already been stuffed down the Trump memory hole. It is, however, an important document with negative far-reaching ramifications for child welfare in the US. To the casual reader, the Executive Order can look benign, positive: a plan for expanded federal child welfare assistance programs to enhance sibling retention, family preservation, unification, permanency, aging out as well as strengthening trauma-informed training and best practice and better reporting standards. It appears to concede a fractured child welfare system, but…

Despite some good points, a studied read proves just the opposite. The Executive Order is a blueprint for “faith-based” usurpation of the US child welfare system and an overall de-secularization of government and its services. It is a game of musical chairs that maintains the current racist/misogynist/classist child commodification system sweetened by a massive injection of nice-sounding “faith-based”—read evangelical—collaboration.

The White House Phone Call

Accompanying the Executive Order was an open conference call between Nicholas D. Pottlebaum, Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director, White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs and stakeholders and interested parties. The call was a perfunctory attempt to assure interested parties that they had a voice in Executive Order implementation, but it is clear that the White House is running roughshod over the people it pretends to serve.

The takeaways from the call indicate that the discussion belies the benign language in the Executive Order.

·       Officials insinuated that since houses of worship are able to provide oversight and support to families who foster and adopt children, thatthey would be given preference over families who do not belong to a particular faith community.

·       Promises protections to “faith-based” organizations, to ensure states work with these “faith-based “groups and don’t discriminate against themfor acting in a manner consistent with their religious beliefs.

·       An allusion to a stepped-up marketing campaign that will portray adoptive families as heroes, publicize safe haven laws and probably indirectly discourage abortion.

State-“Faith-Based” Partnerships

The emphasis in the Executive Order is not some abstract improvement, but the creation of a robust evangelical-coded “faith-based” equalization in child welfare that protects religious discriminatory practices. The EO promises to increase much-needed child welfare improvements through taxpayer-funded tax-exempt so-called “faith-based” partnerships with private religious child welfare organizations and corporations including churches, para-churches, and ministries. Moreover, the EO promises “faith-based foster and adoption recruitment,” suggesting nonsensically that the lack of “faith-based partnerships” keeps children stuck in state foster care when they could be transferred to the Christian adoption market if that market were more open and available.

Increased evangelical presence in foster care also brings up the question of treatment of kids in state systems that are routinely subjected to evangelical coercion and physical, sexual, and emotional abuse as reported repeatedly in the media by victims, police, and social workers. Especially scary is the treatment of queer and trans kids who will be sent to evangelical foster homes where they can be subjected to coercion, abuse and to potential conversion therapy to “unqueer” them.


While the Executive Order appears to address foster-adoption procedures and promotion and not newborn adoption, that’s not how the evangelical and “pro-life” Christian media see it. Numerous evangelical sites ran articles praising what they perceive as Trump’s volley against abortion and push for Christian adoption—even though abortion has nothing to do with foster care and has had virtually no effect on newborn adoption rates for decades.

“Pro-life” and pro-newborn stranger adoption advocates clearly see the Executive Order as a mechanism to decrease abortion and harvest newborns for the adoption mill – sometimes connected to their own anti-abortion “ministries” – and to create new funding streams for their anti-abortion and forced birth work.

Adoptee Rights

Evangelical and anti-abortion opposition to the restoration of records access in most states, is currently the chief enemy of the adoptee rights movement. The EO establishes a government hothouse of “faith-based” corporations and white Christian supremacy that can adversely affect the restoration of the right of adopted people to their birth and adoption records, histories, and identities.

Adoptees are one of the favorite props of the anti-abortion movement. They are portrayed as objects “saved from the abortion mill” – until they demand their rights. Then they are scapegoated as “Planned Parenthood dupes” and “baby killers.” Even if what” pro-lifers” claim is true, that records access causes abortion (which it is not), so what? How does equal treatment for amarginalized group harm the equaltreatmentenjoyed by the non-marginalized? Laws cannot be based on speculation.

Child Welfare or Bigotry and Discrimination?

The incurious press with its talking heads and neo-liberal big-salary child welfare bureaucrats praise the Executive Order as Trump’s sincere attempt to mend an unmendable child welfare system. They conveniently overlook how the “faith-based” mandate is rooted in “sincerely held” religious free boot bigotry.

The primary purpose of the EO is not child welfare, but legal discrimination. It is a blatant pander to Trump’s base by executive-ordering” legalized “ freedom-of-conscience” discrimination against LBGTQ+, BIPOC, religious minorities, non-believers, secularists, “liberals,” and anyone else that any given church crowd doesn’t like in order for them to expand their growing control in governmental affairs. It enables faith corporations to loot the public treasury and transfer/traffic children into “preferable” social situations that can lead to religious indoctrination, church growth, and political power.

The Catholic media’s interest in the Executive Order suggests that the church hopes to get back in to the lucrative adoption business it was kicked out of a few years ago due to its ban on gay and lesbian adoptions through Catholic Charities. Of course, Christian agencies in general will slurp up the tax-payer trough. DeVos family-connected Bethany Christian Services, (2017 net income: $38 million) currently handling the fostering and potential adoption of many non-accompanied children and border kidsleft temporary orphans by the Trump administration, issued a press a praising the order.

Nationally recognized child welfare /foster/adoptee rights advocate Maureen Flatley, warns just how dangerous implementation of the Executive Order could be.

[The Executive Order] will dramatically contract the pool of available parents, unleash rampant discrimination of many kinds and pull the trigger on baby grabs to TPR “new” kids before addressing the 100K existing backlog. As we saw w/ the Catholic Church abuse cases, putting churches in charge of “oversight” is a recipe for disaster. Finally, the history of child welfare is replete w/ countless stories of incompetence and abuse by faith-based programs. This order seems to contain positive things. However, to the extent, the program is built on a platform that encourages bigotry and arbitrary limits on recruitment based on “faith” it will have a devastating impact on waiting children.

What Next?

Implementation could depend on the outcome of Fulton v City of Philadelphia, an upcoming case before the US Supreme Court, where Catholic Social Services claims it has a religious exemption right to refuse certification of households headed by same-sex partners. The ruling has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic and could affect voluntary partnership decisions.

Executive Orders come and go as presidential administrations change. As long as this EO continues to be framed in benevolence rather than bigotry, however, it will stay because it props up sentimental mythology about “children in crisis” without delving deep into reality by addressing the causes and so-called remedies. Some of the mandates are positive on paper, but they are mostly words to weaponize discrimination. Genuine improvements need to be accomplished; not by presidential fiat but by the creation of new non- coercive care systems based in community, family preservation, economic justice, equal treatment under law, and the hard work of people who are affected by the broken system. Bureaucrats, propagandists, high-paid workers, religious bigots, ideologues, and politicians need not apply.

A longer version of this article appears in The Daily Bastardette.

Marley Greiner has written for the Columbus Free Presssince 1980 and is a former member of the board of The Columbus Institute for Contemporary Journalism Her areas of interest are Biblical America in general and Central Ohio theocrats, in particular; abortion, adoption, and foster care. She lives in Moody, Texas.