NASHVILLE (ABP) — The state of Tennessee will no longer place at-risk children in the care of Tennessee Baptist Children's Homes, in part because the children's ministry requires residents to attend church.
The state Department of Children's Services last year ended the long-standing relationship with the children's homes, citing the state's change of emphasis from institutional care to foster care, according to TBCH president Bryant Millsaps. Although the state considered resuming the placements last fall, it was under the condition the children not be required to attend church.
“We're not going to do that,” Millsaps told the state House of Representatives' committee on family and children's affairs.
In testimony before the committee March 23, Millsaps asked the state to “allow us to continue to partner with DCS to meet the needs of children.” He suggested TBCH resembles foster care more than institutional care — children are placed in groups of six with two house parents in single-family homes. “The children relate to their house parents, not to the administration,” Millsaps said of the 10 TBCH sites.
“There is either a deeply ingrained prejudice toward a Christian approach to child care or a total lack of understanding on the part of DCS as to what ministries like the Tennessee Baptist Children's Homes do,” Millsaps later told the Baptist & Reflector, Tennessee Baptists' newspaper.
Tennessee Baptist Children's Homes is at the center of the debate, he said, because it is the oldest and largest statewide child-care ministry and because “we're the only agency that doesn't take the state's money to do it.” He estimated that in the 113 years of its existence, TBCH has saved the state of Tennessee between $65 and $70 million in child-care expenses.
The children's homes are funded by gifts from Tennessee Baptist churches and other evangelical churches. While the organization has a capacity of 149 children, 46 beds are currently empty, due primarily to the DCS decision.
Millsaps emphasized, however, TBCH will continue to operate. “We're always going to have children,” he said. “We still have families that place children with us. We still have pastors that lead families and children to us. We get calls from law enforcement agencies and judges who are trying to mediate issues before they reach the crisis point that refer children to us.”