Over the past 25 years, Sharonell Fulton has been a mother to more than 40 children through foster parenting in Philadelphia.
She has opened her heart and home to children who have suffered abuse and trauma, offering them an oasis of love and comfort during tumultuous times.
“I have devoted my life to opening my home as a safe harbor,” Fulton wrote in an opinion piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer May 24.
“For the last 25 years, I have sheltered and loved more than 40 children, helping them piece their lives together and move on from hurt-filled pasts,” she said. “It was my faith that led me to become a foster mother to children, particularly children that society had abused and discarded.”
When Philadelphia recently severed ties with Catholic Social Services, Fulton said that she felt fully “the pain of rejection.” Fulton, who had been using the Catholic Social Services program for her own foster parenting, said that seeing “the city condemn the foster agency that has made possible my life’s work fills me with pain.”
On March 15, Philadelphia Councilwoman Cindy Bass authorized an investigation into organizations which do not place foster children in the care of LGBTQ individuals, on the grounds of discrimination. Among the organizations, the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and Human Services found Catholic Social Services at fault, saying their foster placement was discriminatory, and cut ties with the faith-based agency.
“As a single mom and woman of color, I’ve known a thing or two about discrimination over the years,” Fulton remarked.
“But I have never known vindictive religious discrimination like this, and I feel the fresh sting of bias watching my faith publicly derided by Philadelphia’s politicians,” she continued.
Fulton also underscored the hypocrisy in the city’s recent decision to sever their connection with Catholic Social Services, since Philadelphia had announced a growing and dire need for more foster families only weeks before.
The opioid crisis in Philadelphia has contributed significantly to the immediate need of foster families in the city, as many parents have fallen victim to the drug epidemic. Fulton said that there are “rosters of children without safe homes” because of the widespread crisis.
“Last year, [Catholic Social Services] supervised more than 100 foster homes, and its service to at-risk children in the city goes back more than an entire century,” Fulton said.
“Why deny that service when homes for vulnerable children are needed now more than ever? The fate of hundreds of children and foster families hang in the balance.”
In light of the recent ban on Catholic Social Services, Fulton has joined a number of other foster families in suing the city on the grounds of religious discrimination. If the city declines to renew its current contract with Catholic Social Services, which ends in June, there is a chance the foster children placed by CSS will be uprooted from their homes.
Fulton expressed concern over the lawsuit, saying that if the contract is not renewed, she will “worry every night” about her foster children, particularly the two special-needs kids who are currently under her care. She has spent a lot of time building up a trusting relationship with them and noted that they require significant devotion because of their extensive needs.
“To know that the City of Philadelphia may soon take from me the work that brings me the greatest joy frightens me. And to think that the city would rather score political points than to offer true hope and a future to our city’s most vulnerable children makes me angry,” said Fulton.
“The 6,000 and counting at-risk children waiting in Philadelphia’s foster care system deserve much better than having their futures jeopardized by our city’s leaders playing politics. They deserve hope, they deserve love, they deserve a city doing all it can to find them a home.”