Politics & Government

Kansas bill would reward foster parents who are married, faithful, alcohol-free

A social worker, right, and a foster parent interact with two foster sons in a Wichita home. Under a Kansas Senate proposal, in order to become a CARE family, a husband and wife would have to be married for at least seven years and at least one of the pair could not work outside the home.
A social worker, right, and a foster parent interact with two foster sons in a Wichita home. Under a Kansas Senate proposal, in order to become a CARE family, a husband and wife would have to be married for at least seven years and at least one of the pair could not work outside the home. File photo

Married couples who refrain from extramarital sex, keep a home free of liquor and tobacco, and regularly participate in a church or similar social organization could qualify as providers of a higher tier of foster care under a bill proposed by a Republican lawmaker from southern Kansas.

Sen. Forrest Knox, R-Altoona, says he is looking to provide stability for children. Senate Bill 158 would set up the CARE family program, which Knox said he hopes would gradually replace the current foster care system.

Families in the program would be eligible to receive state education aid to either home school or send their foster kids to private school.

The bill also says that CARE families would be paid at a “rate substantially higher than that of other foster care homes.”

Knox said that language is included because he expects CARE families to do more than the average foster home. He said that section might change and move to more of a volunteer model.

To become a CARE family, a husband and wife would have to be married for at least seven years and at least one of the pair could not work outside the home. The bill would prohibit alcohol, tobacco and unlawful drugs in the home and “sexual relations outside of the marriage.”

The bill will receive a hearing Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

‘The only normal home’

Knox and his wife fostered and adopted four boys. Social workers recounted horror stories about other foster homes, he said, adding that is because the current system treats foster parents as baby sitters.

“They said we were the only normal home that they visited,” Knox said. “My conclusion is that we need more normal homes as foster homes. And how do you get normal? When I say normal, I just mean an ordinary home with a mom and dad who loves the kids.”

He referred to the 1950s sitcom “Leave it to Beaver” to give an example of the types of families he is hoping to attract to the program.

He said it probably would be difficult to enforce the prohibition against extramarital sex and said he did not expect the state to investigate whether spouses were having an affair. But he said if it came to light that a spouse was cheating, their status as CARE parents would end.

He said the bill includes restrictions against alcohol and tobacco because the products, though legal, are addictive.

“I don’t have a problem with someone smoking or drinking. But I’m just thinking these are not the homes where you need that added complication,” Knox said. “A lot of these kids come out of (homes with) drug problems, you know. These kids are going to be more prone to addictive behaviors … that’s not the situation we want to put these kids in.”

He said that requiring one of the parents to stay at home ensures stability. He has similar reasons for wanting to require the family to participate in “a social group larger than the family that meets regularly” as written in the bill.

“If they’re socially involved – I’m saying outside of just their work – then you’re going to, in my mind anyway, you’re not going to have secret activities as likely,” Knox said. “It could easily be a church. It could easily be a synagogue. It could be a mosque, I’m saying. It could be a community organization.”

“It’s no secret I’d like to see church people. In Chanute, Kansas, there’s no synagogue. It’s church people,” Knox said later in the conversation, explaining that churches would provide fertile ground to recruit the families needed. “That’s a community where I could go to the pastors … and maybe we could get a few families and maybe, as need arose in the area, DCF could have an option.”

Reactions to proposal

The Department of Children and Families said it was still reviewing the proposal.

Senate Vice President Jeff King, R-Independence, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, would not comment on the bill before the hearing.

Sen. David Haley, D-Kansas City, the committee’s ranking minority member, expressed concern over some of the elements.

“If this is the Cadillac standard that they want to put in place for foster care child providers, why is it necessary to have a certain lifestyle in place?” Haley said. “Can’t children be raised … by people who don’t go to church every Sunday or couples that might imbibe with legal activities like alcohol or tobacco?”

He also questioned why the state would put into statute specific relationship requirements.

Erin Teeter, director of foster care for Wichita Children’s Home, had similar questions about the bill.

Teeter said one of the children’s home’s best foster parents is a retired widow and that same-sex couples have proven to be capable foster parents.

“My concern is that we’re basing it entirely on morality,” she said. “Mine and yours might be different perspectives. We have several homes in this community that are homes with maybe two dads that are fantastic homes. And at the same time we might have a home that is lackluster that fits this criteria. I don’t think this is a criteria that shows a good foster home.”

Teeter emphasized the importance of training over things like whether or not someone smokes; she added that anyone who smokes now is required to do so outside.

She said that the state requires first-aid training and clinical training for foster parents to become licensed. The children’s home requires CPR training and additional behavioral management training for its foster care parents.

“I would put my child in any of my foster homes,” Teeter said.

Knox also emphasized the importance of training. The bill would require CARE parents to attend monthly training sessions on mental health counseling and other areas important for foster care families.

The bill also sets up a state education fund to reimburse foster care parents who choose to educate their children outside of the local school district, either in a home school or private school setting. The families would receive the amount of average state aid per student for each of the children being educated outside the public school system.

Mark Tallman, spokesman for the Kansas Association of School Boards, said that this would be “providing funding with no accountability as to what the academic results would be” and questioned the rationale for doing when the state is looking to reduce education spending.

Reach Bryan Lowry at 785-296-3006 or blowry@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BryanLowry3.

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