The Legislative Post Audit Committee voted Thursday to delay considering an audit into allegations of bias at the Kansas Department for Children and Families against adoptions by same-sex couples.
The panel of legislators instead voted to create a subcommittee that will develop a proposal for a broader investigation of the state’s foster care and adoption system that will be ready for an up-or-down vote in January.
“When we do it, we have to do it right,” said Rep. Peggy Mast, a Republican from Emporia. “It should be comprehensive."
Mast added, “It looks like it’s a system that needs to be fixed.”
The same committee rejected a broader audit of DCF requested by two Democrats in July.
One of those Democrats, Rep. Jim Ward of Wichita, was back Thursday before the committee to renew that request, while adding one focused on investigating whether DCF is attempting to steer children away from adoptive parents in same-sex relationships.
DCF officials have repeatedly said they have no formal policy to take sexual orientation into account when making recommendations for foster care or adoption.
But Ward presented the committee with a list of 21 attorneys and social workers who believe a pattern of discrimination can be proven if those with evidence are provided the anonymity of an audit.
Ward said confidentiality clauses in cases involving children are good policy but have prevented those attorneys and social workers from publicly airing their concerns about anti-gay bias and DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore.
“If you were to open an audit, I think you would find out from people who were in the room when this happened that the (DCF) secretary said, ‘We are going to begin to screen applications to find out if they’re homosexual,’” Ward said. “That she went to a staff meeting and discouraged adoptions by gay and lesbians, and when asked by a professional who’d been in the department for years why she would do this, she said, ‘We’re doing things differently now.’”
Ward said he was OK with developing a broader audit, as long as the question of bias against same-sex couples is part of it.
“The frustrating thing is we wait yet again, and nothing changes,” Ward said. “There’s no questions being asked (of DCF) — there’s questions about the questions to ask.”
Ward’s request comes after media reports on custody cases involving same-sex couples. In one case, DCF removed a baby from the home of lesbian foster parents in Wichita and recommended the child be placed with some half-siblings who lived in a 2,200-square-foot Topeka home with more than a dozen children in it.
The owners of the home, Topeka City Councilman Jonathan Schumm and his wife, were charged last month with child abuse.
Ward also cited a Johnson County case in which a judge said DCF officials conducted a “witch hunt” against another lesbian couple. The judge’s sealed decision includes emails among DCF officials in which they cite the potential adoptive mother’s sexual orientation as something to note and seek more information about the percentage of out-of-home foster care placements going to same-sex couples.
Ward, an attorney, said he also knows of a case in which a grandmother was denied custody because she was in a same-sex relationship.
Republicans on the committee said they had other concerns about DCF, including the “warehousing” of foster children in some homes and the rising number of out-of-home foster care placements.
“I’m a little bit concerned that if we look at only what’s in this scope statement, then that comes back and whatever that audit covers we move on and we don’t look at the other areas, that I think are equally or maybe even more important,” said Sen. Jeff Longbine, a Republican from Emporia.
Andy Marso is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team. You can reach him on Twitter @andymarso