- Associated Press - Friday, December 11, 2015

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - 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:

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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.”

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GILMORE’S INVOLVEMENT

Gilmore said she’s never involved in foster care placements and only occasionally briefed on adoption cases.

“The most I’m involved is if I get an email or something and I pass it on, ‘So and so had this concern. Please look into it.’”

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QUESTIONS ON SEXUAL ORIENTATION

Black: “When you’re assessing a family, you’re trying to get at who they are 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.”

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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.”

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CONFIDENTIALITY REQUIREMENTS

Kansas law keeps cases involving abused and neglected children closed.

Freed: “It’s probably just safe to say that there are lots of these high-profile cases being discussed right now, and the bottom line is nobody has all of the information about these children and what’s in their best interests. So nobody’s getting a complete picture. It’s unfortunate sometimes that we can’t defend ourselves. …

“There are plenty of people who are calling us to be transparent, but this is as transparent as we can get.”

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ON A POTENTIAL AUDIT

Legislators are considering a state audit of the child welfare system.

Gilmore: “Of course, we welcome an audit. If, from that, we get suggestions on how we can improve, we welcome that. If it says we’re lacking in resources, if it means the Legislature is able to provide additional resources, we welcome that. We’re not fearful about the audit.

“I think we all know that we’ve done things well, but can we do them better? I’m sure, but I don’t think anything egregious will be found.”

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

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