Members of the Legislative Post Audit Committee again declined Tuesday to request an investigation into whether the Kansas Department for Children and Families has placed children in risky situations because of a preference for heterosexual foster parents.
Rep. Jim Ward, a Democrat from Wichita, first requested the audit in December after reports surfaced of DCF removing a baby from the home of a lesbian couple in Wichita and placing it with a heterosexual Topeka couple who subsequently were charged with child abuse.
The committee tabled the request at that time and a month later approved a broader audit of DCF’s foster care protocols that did not question whether the agency prefers heterosexual couples as foster parents.
Ward told the committee Tuesday he remains concerned that discrimination at the agency possibly puts children at risk.
“We had a judicial finding — after evidence, where both sides had lawyers to argue — that raised serious questions about whether DCF was making decisions (about) placing children based on the best interests of those children or based on some political ideology that opposed same-sex relationships,” Ward said.
The committee voted down the audit 5-4, with four Democrats voting in favor and five Republicans voting against it.
DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore submitted a letter to the committee in advance of Tuesday’s meeting stating that the agency and its foster care contractors have no formal policies related to same-sex couples.
The letter was in response to a request from Sen. Jeff Longbine, a Republican from Emporia, that the agency review its training materials, internal memos and other policy documents.
“We found no information in those materials regarding same-sex couples,” Gilmore’s letter said.
Longbine voted against the audit, saying he was satisfied with the agency’s assurances that it was not discriminating.
“Maybe we should take them at their word for a while and see how they behave,” Longbine said.
Ward, who reviewed Gilmore’s letter briefly before speaking Tuesday, called it a “straw man” argument and said it does not allay his concerns about unwritten attitudes among agency leaders that disfavor same-sex couples.
“If it’s not happening, as DCF tries to infer in this letter, then everyone will feel more comfortable after we’ve investigated and determined that these allegations that they make in this letter are true,” Ward said. “More concerning is the children that are being harmed because they’re discriminating. If that’s happening, we have to stop it as soon as possible.”
Topeka case ends in diversion
Ward’s concerns track back to reports of a baby who was removed from the home of a lesbian couple and placed with then-Topeka City Councilman Jonathan Schumm and his wife, who already had 14 children in a 2,200-square-foot home.
Schumm and his wife were charged with child abuse in November and the children were removed from the home. Last week the Schumms agreed to a diversion deal with the Shawnee County district attorney in which Jonathan Schumm signed a document stating that he choked one of his children and struck the boy repeatedly with a belt, cutting his eye. He also resigned from the Topeka City Council.
Ward also cited a Johnson County case in which a judge said DCF had ignored its duty to act in the child’s best interest and instead conducted a “witch hunt” against the child’s mother, who was in a same-sex relationship.
Gilmore, in her letter, said in both cases DCF officials’ motivation was to unite siblings in foster families.
Ward has said other cases will come to light if sources are given the confidentiality protections of an audit, pointing to a letter signed by 17 attorneys and social workers who say they have observed DCF making decisions based on political ideology rather than a child’s best interest.
Several Republican members of the committee questioned whether Ward should be allowed to speak at Tuesday’s meeting, saying they were concerned he would only rehash old arguments.
But Sen. Michael O’Donnell, a Republican from Wichita who chairs the committee, said he had promised Ward two minutes and wanted to keep his word.
Medicaid audit approved
The committee did approve several audits for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1, including one to investigate the long waits Kansans have been experiencing after applying for Medicaid.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment already is providing twice-monthly updates to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services because of an application backlog that has thousands of Kansans waiting longer than the 45-day federal limit.
KDHE officials have traced the beginnings of the backlog to last summer’s rollout of a new computer system, the Kansas Eligibility Enforcement System, which was the subject of a legislative audit last year. An administrative change that transferred all applications to KDHE in January and a flood of applications during the healthcare.gov open enrollment period also contributed.
Longbine said a constituent whose husband had waited three months for coverage and needed kidney dialysis recently called him for help getting his application processed.
“I think we’re having some extreme problems with the new (computer) system,” Longbine said.
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