What is the best way to support a child diagnosed with gender dysphoria, that is, a child who believes their body doesn’t match the person they really are?

A couple of weeks ago, the Biden administration put through changes to Title IX rules, forbidding discrimination based on gender identity, which would mean, among other things, that biological males would have a legally protected right to play on girls’ sports teams and to change in women’s locker rooms. A number of states have already said they will sue.

But shortly thereafter the administration released another rule change that is equally worrisome and would have far reaching implications for the most vulnerable children in our country.

The rule, first proposed by the Department of Health and Human Services last year in order to support children in the foster care system who identify as LGBTQ, would have required that all providers promise to affirm a child’s sexual and gender identity.

The original rule seemed to offer an exemption to religious providers of foster care who believe that offering hormones or surgery to a child who identified as another gender would violate their religious beliefs. Under the exemption, perhaps they couldn’t care for foster youth who identify as transgender, but it wouldn’t preclude them from fostering at all.

In response to thousands of comments, Health and Human Services slightly altered the rule, allowing agencies to determine whether they wanted to opt in. The effects seem like they will likely be the same. Agencies that say they can provide an array of foster parents who are certified to care for any child will likely be favored over those that only care for certain children. It’s true that there is a shortage of foster parents in most states but many child welfare agencies would prefer not to have the hassle of going to certain agencies for certain children.

This is particularly unfortunate because religious foster care agencies have become the most innovative in recent years, offering better training and support to their families. Religious families also tend to continue fostering for longer periods than nonreligious ones. Experience and support are two things that not only help foster parents but also foster children.

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But the most significant problem remains the same, which is that the rule assumes that the best way to support a child with gender dysphoria is to “affirm” what they believe they are, and to offer them drugs and surgeries that will alter their bodies to get them closer to what they think they should be.

“Every child deserves a safe and loving home,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said upon release of the new rule. “When any child comes into government care, they should have supports and services that meet their specific needs. By addressing the needs of LGBTQI+ children, this rule brings us one step closer to ensuring that all children have the opportunity to thrive.”

But there is no consensus in this country, in individual states or among different families that in order for a child to thrive, their gender identity should be “affirmed.” Many loving parents believe that a child with gender dysphoria might need therapy and time — time because adolescents often struggle with their identities in various ways.

When a state decides to remove a child from his or her family, the state is taking on a grave responsibility. The arrangement is supposed to be temporary in almost all cases. And the state has a responsibility to return that child to his or her family, having been safely cared for in the interim. Imagine being the parent of a child who has been removed to foster care and then returned to you having been provided hormones to stunt puberty or having been surgically altered. This scenario should provoke outrage among people on all sides of the political spectrum who support the rights of parents. And yet it doesn’t seem to occur to the presumably well-meaning people in our federal bureaucracies.

There is a lot of diversity in this country in the way that people raise their children. Some states have classified gender-altering surgery for minors as child abuse and others have said that not offering these surgeries is child abuse. The scientific consensus seems to be moving away from medical interventions, and Europe has recently taken a number of steps to restricting the use of them. The federal government should stay out of this issue as much as possible, and using foster children to send an ideological message is exactly the wrong move.

Naomi Schaefer Riley is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Deseret News contributor and the author of “No Way to Treat a Child: How the Foster Care System, Family Courts, and Racial Activists Are Wrecking Young Lives,” among other books.