Politics & Government

Kansas foster parents should affirm LGBTQ youth, draft guidelines from DCF say

Draft guidelines from Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly’s administration advise foster care agencies to recognize the preferred gender identity of youths and say foster parents should not impose traditional gender roles on LGBTQ children.

The recommendations from the Department for Children and Families anger some conservatives, who say they would violate a 2018 state law on adoption. Supporters dispute that.

It’s the second time this summer conservatives have accused the agency of pursuing illegal policy. Republicans previously spent weeks attacking a welfare rule change before Kelly abandoned it.

DCF spokesman Mike Deines said the department provided child placement agencies with draft guidance on best practices in placing LGBTQ youth.

“This document was meant for discussion purposes only and will be revised after receiving feedback. ... DCF will issue final guidance after all feedback has been considered,” Deines said in a statement.

Deines noted it is up to each home whether to accept a child.

The document says “LGBTQ youth should be placed in homes that respect their identities.” Foster homes should be offered training that will help them encourage LGBTQ youth “to express themselves as they see themselves.”

Youth have the right to wear clothing and accessories that suit their gender identity, the draft guidelines say. Not allowing youth to be called by their preferred names and pronouns can deny LGBTQ youth their ability to express their identity and can endanger their physical and emotional well-being, they say.

The document discusses scenarios that might arise among foster youths that identify as a different gender than their biological sex. In one example, an 8-year-old child is biologically a boy but identifies as a girl.

In that case, can the child can share a room with the foster family’s biological daughter who is 6? The document says yes, the child can, and emphasizes that “prudent parenting should be employed” to ensure decisions are the best for all involved and promote normalcy while ensuring health and safety.

Christie Appelhanz, director of the Children’s Alliance of Kansas, praised DCF for putting forward the document.

“LGBTQ youth face unique risk and foster parents play an important role in reducing those risks. This policy is a step in the right direction,” Appelhanz said.

The draft guidance from the Department for Children and Families comes as the Democratic governor has sought to address LGBTQ concerns. In one of her first official acts, Kelly reinstated an executive order that prohibited discrimination against state employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Family Policy Alliance of Kansas, which opposes the proposed guidelines, posted a copy online Friday and issued a statement condemning it.

“Governor Kelly came into office with a clear choice — to put children or her own agenda first. Her latest under-the-radar policy makes clear that her sexualized agenda takes top priority,” the group’s director, Brittany Jones, said.

The group said the guidance violates the 2018 Kansas Adoption Protection Act. The law, signed by former Republican Gov. Jeff Colyer, ensures that adoption and foster care agencies can refuse to serve LGBTQ individuals.

But Tom Witt, director of Equality Kansas, said the guidelines have nothing to do with the law.

“The policy memo is about placing LGBT kids in homes where they will be safe. The discrimination act says (child placement agencies) won’t be sanctioned for turning LGBT and other families away,” Witt said, adding there’s no language in the document that says otherwise.

Supporters of the 2018 law said it was needed to protect religiously affiliated adoption and foster care agencies. By extending protections to those groups, Kansas is expanding the number of placement agencies who can serve children at a time when the foster care system is under stress, they said.

Critics – including Kelly – have called the law discriminatory. The bill says DCF Families cannot block any foster or adoption agency from participating in its programs solely because it refuses to adopt or place children with LGBTQ individuals.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle

Jonathan Shorman covers Kansas politics and the Legislature for The Wichita Eagle and The Kansas City Star. He’s been covering politics for six years, first in Missouri and now in Kansas. He holds a journalism degree from the University of Kansas.