Politics & Government

Kansas adoption groups refusing LGBT couples may get state contracts

Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer signs the Adoption Protection Act into law at the Youth Horizons Kinloch Price Boys Ranch in Valley Center.
Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer signs the Adoption Protection Act into law at the Youth Horizons Kinloch Price Boys Ranch in Valley Center. The Wichita Eagle

The Kansas Department for Children and Families may soon award state contracts to adoption and foster care agencies that turn away gay and lesbian couples, some lawmakers say.

The shift comes after Gov. Jeff Colyer signed a law in May ensuring that agencies with sincerely held religious beliefs can refuse to serve LGBT individuals.

DCF has previously fought accusations that it discriminated against gay and lesbian couples, and its decision to potentially contract directly with groups who don’t serve them immediately drew condemnation. Supporters of the new law said it will provide more placement options for children.

Currently, DCF contracts directly with case management providers, who then subcontract with adoption and foster care groups. The case management providers are not allowed to turn away any individuals under the new law.

But the state’s child welfare department has decided to begin contracting directly with the groups, raising the prospect that Kansas could soon directly fund agencies that don’t serve LGBT couples.

“That’s frightening,” said Rep. Jarrod Ousley, D-Merriam.

DCF’s decision to pursue contracts directly with adoption agencies drew scrutiny on Monday during a meeting of the Child Welfare Task Force. The move was first announced in May as part of a host of changes to the state’s next round of foster care and adoption contracts. The new contracts are expected to be awarded by December.

“I think that this might be a way around the law, that this will allow our Department for Children and Families to impose the restrictions placed on adoptions by folks who don’t meet the religiously held beliefs of an agency,” said Sen. Laura Kelly, a Topeka Democrat who is running for governor.

Lawmakers on the task force questioned DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel over the phone about the agency’s decision to contract directly with adoption agencies. Meier-Hummel said that up until this point, child placement agencies have acted as subcontractors of the case management organizations, which are currently KVC and Saint Francis.

“Moving forward, we will directly have a contract with those (child placement agencies),” Meier-Hummel said.

As part of DCF’s contracting with the agencies, those with sincerely held religious beliefs “will claim that” going forward, Meier-Hummel said. But she emphasized that the agencies that want to have case management contracts will not be able to turn away people based on religious beliefs.

DCF said the decision to contract directly with the agencies, which are often called child placement agencies or CPAs, will lead to better use of foster homes.

“Moving forward, contracting directly with CPAs will cut out the middle man, and improve communication between DCF and CPAs, foster families and residential providers,” DCF spokeswoman Taylor Forrest said in a statement.

Broadly, DCF has said the changes to the foster care and adoption contracts are designed to improve oversight and quality of service. In addition to direct contracts with adoption agencies, they include establishing an advisory board and a new program aimed at keeping children with their families when safely possible, as well as numerous other changes.

When Meier-Hummel became secretary late last year, she assumed control of a department that had been accused of discriminating against LGBT couples in the past. She vowed there would be “zero tolerance” of the law moving forward.

A Johnson County judge in a sealed 2013 court order said DCF had showed more concern about sexual orientation than the best interest of a child. A 2017 survey of attorneys who deal with the child welfare system found that 35 percent thought gay and lesbian parents were not treated the same as other parents.

Tom Witt, director of the LGBT rights group Equality Kansas, said DCF’s move to possibly contract with organizations that turn away gay and lesbian couples showed that Colyer and Meier-Hummel were never serious about eliminating discrimination.

“Statements by Governor Colyer, and by his DCF secretary, Gina Meyer-Hummel, promising fair, non-discriminatory treatment of LGBT Kansans were little more than hollow promises they never intended to keep,” Witt said.

The new law that ensures faith-based adoption agencies can turn away LGBT individuals has been called discriminatory by opponents. Proponents, including Colyer and DCF, have said it is designed to boost the number of placement options for children.

“What I want Kansans to know is this is about fairness and that we are protecting everyone,” Colyer said in May. “It’s not about discrimination, it’s about fairness. We’re looking after those kids that need a forever home.”