A Wichita lawmaker is calling for an audit into whether the Kansas Department for Children and Families has discriminated against same-sex couples in foster care and adoption cases.
The action comes after a news report that a heterosexual couple from Topeka now facing child abuse charges was granted custody of a child over a Wichita lesbian couple last year based on a recommendation from the DCF. It also follows a legislative hearing in which lawmakers questioned the merits of same-sex couples as potential foster parents.
A Sedgwick County judge ruled in 2014 in favor of placing a child with Topeka City Council member Jonathan Schumm and his wife rather than a lesbian couple who had cared for the child for 11 months. The judge’s ruling relied heavily on the DCF’s recommendation, the Kansas Health Institute news service reported last week.
“It never made any sense that a child, an infant, who had bonded with foster parents was going to be pulled from those foster parents to be placed with a family that already had, as I recall, 13 children,” said Kari Schmidt, attorney for the Wichita couple, Lisa and Tesa Hines. “It just defied logic. Why would you do that?”
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The Schumms were adoptive parents to half-siblings of the child the Hineses were trying to adopt, and the agency cited that as a reason for recommending them over the Wichita couple, Schmidt said.
Jonathan Schumm did not respond to phone calls and e-mails Wednesday morning.
Schmidt said her clients received signs from the DCF that “they were not going to get a fair shake” in their pursuit of adopting the child. She said Lisa Hines is a professor of social work at Wichita State University and called her “clearly qualified” to care for the child.
Hines deferred questions about the case to Schmidt, who said her clients were traumatized by the removal of the child from their home after 11 months. “For them, it was like their child died,” she said.
The case is sealed. But an emergency petition Schmidt filed in October 2014 against Judge Patrick Walters, who had presided over the case, is public. It explains how the DCF removed the child from the Hines home without notice.
“They trumped up a neglect charge,” Schmidt said. “Because if you have a neglect charge against you through DCF, they can remove a child from a foster family without giving them the 30 days’ notice that the statute otherwise requires.”
The neglect case was found to be unsubstantiated, according to Schmidt’s petition, but by then it was too late for the Hineses to get the child back.
Feel they have been targeted
Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, said he plans to file a formal request for an audit Dec. 10 when the Legislative Post-Audit Committee meets.
They’re hurting children. In their bigotry, in their effort to prevent nontraditional families, they’re hurting children.
Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita
“They’re hurting children. In their bigotry, in their effort to prevent nontraditional families, they’re hurting children,” Ward said. “The prime directive of DCF is to do what’s in the best interest (of the child). It’s not just about the same-sex couples. In fact, it’s really about the kids.”
Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, a gay-rights organization, said in an e-mail that he has spoken with multiple gay and lesbian couples who feel they have been targeted by the DCF and have had their foster children taken away.
“DCF is ripping apart gay and lesbian families to satisfy the ideological demands of DCF Secretary (Phyllis) Gilmore,” Witt said. “Children who have already lost one family are enduring further trauma at the hands of the Brownback administration, which cares far more about fringe ideology than the best interests of children and their families.”
Gilmore said Wednesday that “an audit would be to our benefit” because it would show that the allegations against the agency are not true.
Confidentiality laws prohibit the DCF from commenting on a specific case; the DCF has repeatedly said it does not have a policy to show a preference to heterosexual parents over same-sex parents.
“We have no policy regarding same-sex couples within our foster care or adoption programs,” said Theresa Freed, spokeswoman for the agency.
Our priority is looking for safe and appropriate homes for each child, and that’s determined on a case-by-case basis.
Theresa Freed, DCF spokeswoman
“Our priority is looking for safe and appropriate homes for each child, and that’s determined on a case-by-case basis.”
Freed added that “keeping together siblings is a high priority for our agencies.”
Schmidt said the child at the center of the case has gone back into the DCF system, and her clients, who remain licensed foster parents, are trying to see whether they can take the child back into their home.
This is not the first time the DCF has faced questions about how it handles cases involving same-sex couples.
A Johnson County judge removed a child from the DCF’s custody in 2013 after concluding it had not acted in the best interest of a child by taking him away from a lesbian couple who had fostered him and planned to adopt.
Some conservative lawmakers recently contended that the DCF should weigh family structure when making foster care placements.
A special legislative committee on foster care heard testimony last month from Donald Paul Sullins, a Catholic priest and professor of sociology at Catholic University of America who authored a controversial study that argues that children raised by same-sex parents are at higher risk for depression and other emotional disorders.
Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, the committee’s chairman, said after the hearing that “a traditional home with a father and a mother and a committed long-term marriage is the best for meeting the needs of kids.”
Jennifer Pearson, a sociology professor at WSU, took issue with the lawmakers relying on Sullins’ research, which she said has been discredited. She said in an e-mail that the bulk of research has shown “that child well-being is based on stability in the family, parent-child relationships, and family resources, not the sex of the parents.”
A survey by Columbia University’s law school found that 73 of 77 studies have shown that children who are raised by gay and lesbian parents fare no worse than peers raised by heterosexual parents.
Pearson said she was “deeply troubled by the suggestion that decisions about foster care or adoption might be based on parents’ sexual orientation rather than the factors that truly matter.”