Can you imagine losing count of your kids? It could be quite easy if your home was as open as Karen Quinn’s. During the course of three decades, she and her husband have been foster parents to “well over 30” children. They adopted five of them, and are legal guardians to another.

Karen’s husband is a deacon, and when one of their adopted daughters, Jamie Hill, was set to be married in 2014, he offered to officiate the wedding. But she didn’t want that nearly as much as she wanted him to walk her down the aisle.

“It took a lot for me to get a dad,” said Jamie, “and I wanted him to be a dad that day.” Three of her adopted sisters were among her bridesmaids that day, too. Now in her 30s, Jamie and her husband have two children.

I often think of foster care as similar to the lives of military families: So few Americans know what it’s like, and both require tremendous sacrifice. But we couldn’t survive and thrive without it. In one case, we are talking about the protection of a nation, along with serving others. In the other, we are talking about the lives of individual innocent children who can be transformed by the hearts of loving parents.

Right now, with opioid addiction adding to the need for foster parents around the country, testimonies like the Quinns’ need to be told to inspire others to consider taking up this work. But the reason the Quinns are in the news is a legal battle over religious liberty.

Andrea Picciotti-Bayer is a legal adviser for the Catholic Association Foundation, and she tells the story of the Quinns, and some of the lives they’ve touched, in an amicus brief associated with a Becket Fund for Religious Liberty case that could be taken up by the Supreme Court next term.

The case is between Catholic Social Services and the city of Philadelphia.

CSS had worked with the local government for more than a century to place foster children in homes, but the city stopped the partnership because of the group’s Church-based policy against working with same-sex couples. But whatever one thinks of same-sex marriage or any of the other hot-button issues, people like the Quinns are exactly the kind of people that children need. Adults can’t let our differences harm vital faith-based agencies like CSS.

The Quinns first came to foster care after answering a parish bulletin request about Jamie, who was then 4 years old. Then came Debby, at age 2, and Gus, at 8.

“Gus was a skinny little boy, and Debby had a very sad face. Her eyes were not alive when we got her,” Karen told Picciotti-Bayer. After a few months in a stable, loving home, Debby’s eyes “lit up.” That’s when Karen realized she was in this work for the long term.

The Quinns’ most recent foster child was a baby girl born with serious addictions. After she was taken to live with a relative in February 2018, the Quinns were preparing to take another child, until the plug was pulled on the city partnership with CSS. Now they, and the children, wait.

“My mom is waiting for that call at 3 in the morning, on the off chance that someone is going to need her for three hours or three years,” said Jamie of Karen’s current limbo. “Being a foster mother is her calling from God. It is deep in her soul.”

Reflecting on her own life with the Quinns, she said, “A foster home is the difference between life and death” for some children. “If you have a good foster home — one where a parent treats you like their child — you can make it. Without one, you can fall through the cracks.”