LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–The Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children will renew its contract to care for children assigned by the state despite stricter language required by state officials, according to KBHC President Bill Smithwick.
Renewal for the contract, which was set to expire this summer, was in question after KBHC and the state were named in a lawsuit by a former KBHC employee who was fired because she is lesbian.
The basic agreement, hammered out for more than a month and announced June 24, will maintain two key aspects, according to Smithwick.
First, Smithwick said troubled children who are under the protective wing of state agencies will continue to be referred to KBHC homes and foster parents for care.
Second, he stressed that the contract does not require the Baptist agency to change its policy that prevents employment of people involved in homosexual activity.
Smithwick said that during a conference call, KBHC trustee’s five-member executive board voted unanimously to accept the new contract. “Really, in essence, nothing’s changed,” he said.
But the contract does spell out two issues regarding KBHC’s relationship with Kentucky’s Department of Child and Family Services and the Department of Juvenile Justice.
According to the contract, KBHC must agree to pay for the state’s legal defense in the current lawsuit filed by former employee Alicia Pedreira.
Pedreira was fired by in October 1998 when KBHC officials learned she was a lesbian and living with a partner. She told the Louisville Courier-Journal that she told her supervisor during the job interview that she was a lesbian, but the manager said that wouldn’t be a problem as long as she didn’t discuss her private life at work.
Higher officials in the agency fired Pedreira after learning of her sexuality. A photo of her wearing an “Isle of Lesbos” T-shirt beside her partner during an AIDS walk appeared without her permission at a Kentucky State Fair contest in 1998.
KBHC officials stated at the time of Pedreira’s firing that employees know when they are hired that they are expected to live a lifestyle consistent with the agency’s Christian mission and purpose.
Smithwick reiterated during a press conference last week that the agency’s emphasis on role models requires that employees be held to a high level of accountability, not only on the issue of homosexuality. “I’ve told you folks before, if we have employees who are living together outside the covenant of marriage we’ll discriminate against them too.”
“There’s always been ‘hold harmless’ language in the contracts,” Smithwick said. “It was our employment practices that got the state into court, and we have agreed to indemnify them.”
He added that the bulk of KBHC’s legal costs up to this point have been paid for by insurance.
The other more specific area of the contracts spells out for state employees that they don’t have to refer children to KBHC if they disagree with the Baptist agency’s employment policy
“If certain state employees feel that this is in violation of any code of ethics that they have, they don’t have to refer to us,” Smithwick said.
During the initial controversy after Pedreira’s firing, Smithwick said, several state employees in the Louisville area stopped referring children to KBHC facilities and foster parents.
“But there are many, many others across the state that have very high remarks to say about our quality of care and are very glad that we are going to be continuing our services,” he said.
“This is probably going to cost us some reduction in referrals, which means reduction in revenues,” he added. “We hope Kentucky Baptists will stand up and help make up the difference because of the stand we’ve taken.”
The state reimburses KBHC on a per diem rate for each state-referred child the Baptist agency cares for. Current KBHC facilities still require a minimum number of staff regardless of the number of children served, Smithwick noted, so if the state sends fewer children, the loss in state revenue will increase the average cost per day for children who remain.
Of Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children’s $21 million budget, approximately $12 million is earmarked as state funds.
Had KBHC’s executive board rejected the contracts, the agency’s contingency plan would have enacted across-the-board reductions in programs that include eight residential facilities and multiple Cornerstone Counseling facilities through the state.
“We’d just be much smaller,” Smithwick said, noting that until 30 years ago the agency did not receive state money. The contracts have been as much a “blessing” to the state as to the agency because “providers like us have been able to take care of the state’s children where they didn’t have the facilities to do that.”
Smith said that despite the issues regarding legal costs and individual agent referrals, the agency ultimately accepted the contract because it would allow KBHC to care for more children and it didn’t have to compromise its core values.
“Some state social workers objected to our employment policies, but it was, it is, and it always will be our position that the admitted homosexual lifestyle is contrary to KBHC’s core values and it is not in the best interest of the children that we serve,” he said. “We will not — I repeat — we will not change our core values or change our employment policy regarding homosexuality.”
KBHC will continue to take state dollars as long as it doesn’t impede the agency’s key goals, Smithwick added. “When it gets to the point that we can no longer fulfill our mission, then the state can find somebody else to take care of their children.”
That could happen if the Pedreira lawsuit against KBHC and the state is successful. Among its claims is that the state’s funding for KBHC and it’s religious-based employment policy violates the First Amendment call for separation of church and state.