TOPEKA – Kansas’ top child welfare official says allegations that she attempts to block potential adoptions by same-sex couples are “fiction” and decisions about troubled children are driven by a desire to find the best homes for them, not anti-gay bias.
Six months after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the nation, the Kansas Department for Children and Families faces criticism that it discriminates against gay and lesbian foster parents who want to adopt the troubled children in their care. A gay-rights advocate and Democratic legislator have said Secretary Phyllis Gilmore should resign.
Gilmore told the Associated Press that the department and its two foster care contractors are required by state and federal law to keep children with relatives and their siblings as much as possible. She said their decisions are focused on what’s in the best interest of each child.
“We’re talking about trying to get children into the best homes we can,” she said. “Could that sometimes be a homosexual home? Of course, but I still say that the preferred (situation) is every child to have a mom and a dad, if possible, but it’s not always possible.”
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That statement referred to a preference for so-called traditional families headed by straight, married couples. But she said that this would not exclude a child being placed with a gay or lesbian relative or with a same-sex couple.
Gilmore said she is only occasionally briefed on adoption cases – and her only involvement is to pass questions on to regional DCF offices for further inquiries. She said she never gets involved in placements of abused and neglected children in foster homes.
Before the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Kansas banned same-sex marriage and wouldn’t recognize those from other states. Gays and lesbians have long been able to serve as foster parents and adopt children in state custody as individuals, however.
Allegations of bias arose after a Topeka City Council member and his wife were charged last month with child abuse and child endangerment. They were serving at the time as foster parents and have both biological and adopted children. They were allowed last year to adopt a young girl who had been foster-parented by a lesbian couple in Wichita who also wanted to adopt her.
Five other cases involving lesbian couples have since become public. Legislators are contemplating an audit of the child welfare system, and House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs, a Kansas City Democrat, has suggested a special investigatory committee.
Democratic state Rep. Jim Ward, of Wichita, said Friday that Gilmore should resign, a day after Tom Witt, executive director of the gay-rights group Equality Kansas, made a similar statement.
In an open letter Thursday to Gilmore, to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and to other state officials, 17 attorneys and three social workers said there is “a specter of wrongdoing” at DCF.
And although Gilmore said she isn’t commenting on same-sex relationships in speaking about a “preferred” situation for children, Witt said her comments “just proved our point.”
“She will discriminate against gay and lesbian couples,” he said.
Brownback said in an interview earlier this week that he would welcome a broad audit of the child welfare system. He, too, said DCF officials put the best interest of children first in their decisions.
Gilmore attributed some of the furor to news organizations “connecting the dots” among different cases and partly because, “Well, you know, we live in a political world.”
“I’m not too far from the governor, of course,” she said.
Brownback has been a vocal critic of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage. Witt calls the administration “utterly hostile” to gays and lesbians and said Brownback has appointed “incompetent ideologues” to key positions.
Gilmore said her agency doesn’t track how many gays and lesbians serve as foster parents. She and other DCF officials said same-sex relationships are sometimes noted in reports in individual cases, but only because DCF and its contractors need to know who lives in a home and their relationships before placing a child.
“I’m not a mean-spirited, hateful person making any statement about homosexuality or sexual preference or same-sex marriage, whatever term you want to use,” she said.
Gilmore on foster care, sexual orientation
The Kansas Department for Children and Families faces allegations that it discriminates against gay and lesbian foster parents seeking to adopt the abused and neglected children in their care.
Secretary Phyllis Gilmore disputed those allegations this week in an Associated Press interview, her first extensive one on the subject. Joining her were Sharri Black, the department’s deputy director of protection and prevention services, and agency spokeswoman Theresa Freed.
Here are excerpts:
On foster care
Black: “The child is our client. It is a service for children and so we are trying to maintain those family connections.”
Gilmore: Foster parents “cannot assume that they will be adopting any child that comes into their home. … There’s some degree of risk-taking with foster care.”
Black: “That’s the purpose of the people becoming foster parents, is to be temporary family until that child can move to a permanent placement, either back home with their birth family or with extended relatives.”
Gilmore: “The focus is on the child, not the foster parents.”
Questions on sexual orientation
Black: “When you’re assessing a family, you’re trying to get at who they arem what their connections and relationships are. But as for specifically, ‘What is your sexual orientation?’ No, that question was not asked directly.”
Gilmore: “One of the things you do is look around the house. So, ‘This is Janie’s bedroom and here’s mine.’ Normally, if you were living together, you wouldn’t have two bedrooms. That would be an example.”
Black: “It’s not about their sexual orientation. … You don’t ask for that, but it’s just so you know the dynamics of things in the house.”
Scrutiny of the department
Gilmore: “To me this discussion is not even about homosexuality or same-sex marriage, but somehow we got sucked into it. …
“I am saying that if we look at children first, they’re born into a biological family, and that is the preferred (situation). And then they have siblings and other kinship, and those are the preferred. …
“We’re looking with stability. Clearly, married folks, which now includes homosexuals, are generally, statistically, more stable than cohabitants.
“This discussion is about the best of interest of the child, not a statement of lifestyle, and certainly not a statement of condemnation.”