Opponents of a new Kansas law ensuring that agencies with sincerely held religious beliefs may refuse to place children with gay and lesbian couples say the law could also result in inappropriate placements, or no placements, for LGBT children.
The fear is that the law will also allow agencies to place LGBT children in homes that disapprove of their orientation or gender identity or might allow agencies to choose not to serve them at all.
Supporters of the law say that simply isn’t the case.
The law states that “No child placement agency shall be required to perform, assist, counsel, recommend, consent to, refer or otherwise participate in any placement of a child for foster care or adoption when the proposed placement of such child would violate such agency’s sincerely held religious beliefs.”
LGBTQ youths are over-represented in foster care, according to the Human Rights Campaign. One study in Los Angeles found that nearly 1 out of 5 LA-based foster youths were LGBTQ. Other studies have shown disparities in the experiences of LGBTQ youths in foster care, such as having a higher number of placements.
“Those disparities are directly related to the non-affirming nature of foster placements for LGBTQ youth and the high level of bias and discrimination LGBTQ youth face,” a Human Rights Campaign issue brief states.
Benet Magnuson, executive director of Kansas Appleseed, said he and others have been concerned that foster children would be negatively affected by the law.
“When discrimination is sanctioned by the system that is charged with taking care of them, that does a lot of harm to these kids at an especially difficult time,” he said.
DCF recently announced it would begin contracting directly with adoption and foster care groups, leading some to fear they would be contracting with groups that deny same-sex couples. DCF has said groups with case management contracts will not be able to turn away people based on religious beliefs.
“We expect every provider we work with to act in the best interest of the youth in the Secretary’s care, taking into account all of their needs,” the department said in an emailed statement when asked whether agencies would be able to discriminate against LGBT children in foster care.
Rep. Susan Humphries, the bill’s leading sponsor, said she hasn’t heard concern about discrimination against LGBT children in care in Kansas but that such concerns have been voiced around the country.
“There’s no children that wouldn’t be served because of the Adoption Protection Act,” she said. “Absolutely the goal is to serve children better in Kansas, and that would be any kind of kiddo.”
David Hall, policy director for the Foster Care Alumni of America Oklahoma chapter, said the problem with the law is that it is so broad. Oklahoma passed a similar law but included a clause about how agencies could not deny services to children.
“You wouldn’t need to include that unless you could deny services to children,” Hall said.
A former foster child, Hall said he is concerned the law might lead to gay children being placed with families that don’t approve of them dating someone of the same gender or families that think they can change their sexual orientation.
A greater concern to Hall is that some children might have to hide their orientation or identity in order to stay in religious group homes.
Chuck Weber, director of the Kansas Catholic Conference, said this concern hasn’t been raised in other states that have passed the Adoption Protection Act. The Kansas Catholic Conference was a strong backer of the law, as were Catholic Conferences in other states.
“It appears to me to be creative desperation by opponents of the Adoption Protection Act,” Weber said. “The law focuses on placement, protection of placement. It says nothing about the kids.”
Christie Appelhanz, executive director of the Children’s Alliance of Kansas, said LGBTQ children in the foster care system experience the same maltreatment as other children but often have also been rejected by their families because of their sexual orientation.
“We always need to find placements who accept kids for who they are, and this is just one more challenge, especially if we’re going to have agencies that have said they won’t be accepting and certainly not affirming the foster parents who are LGBTQ,” Appelhanz said. “It goes on down the line. They wouldn’t be accepting or affirming of the children.”