TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Kansas’ top child welfare official says allegations that she attempts to block potential adoptions by same-sex couples are “fiction” and decisions about troubled children are driven by a desire to find the best homes for them, not anti-gay bias.
Six months after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage across the nation, the Kansas Department for Children and Families faces criticism that it discriminates against gay and lesbian foster parents who want to adopt the troubled children in their care. A gay-rights advocate and Democratic legislator have said Secretary Phyllis Gilmore should resign.
But in her first extensive interview on the subject this week, Gilmore told The Associated Press that the department and its two foster care contractors are required by state and federal law to keep children with relatives and their siblings as much as possible. She said their decisions are focused on what’s in the best interest of each child.
“We’re talking about trying to get children into the best homes we can,” she said. “Could that sometimes be a homosexual home? Of course, but I still say that the preferred (situation) is every child to have a mom and a dad, if possible, but it’s not always possible.”
That statement referred to a preference for so-called traditional families headed by straight, married couples. But she said that this would not exclude a child being placed with a gay or lesbian relative or with a same-sex couple.
Gilmore said she is only occasionally briefed on adoption cases - and her only involvement is to pass questions on to regional DCF offices for further inquiries. She said she never gets involved in placements of abused and neglected children in foster homes.
Before the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Kansas banned same-sex marriage and wouldn’t recognize those from other states. Gays and lesbians have long been able to serve as foster parents and adopt children in state custody as individuals, however.
Allegations of bias arose after a Topeka City Council member and his wife were charged last month with child abuse and child endangerment. They were serving at the time as foster parents and have both biological and adopted children. They were allowed last year to adopt a young girl who’d previously been foster-parented by a lesbian couple in Wichita who also wanted to adopt her, according to news reports.
Five other cases involving lesbian couples have since become public. Legislators are contemplating an audit of the child welfare system, and House Minority Leader Tom Burroughs, a Kansas City Democrat, has suggested a special investigatory committee.
Democratic state Rep. Jim Ward, of Wichita, said Friday that Gilmore should resign, a day after Tom Witt, executive director of the gay-rights group Equality Kansas, made a similar statement in an interview.
In an open letter Thursday to Gilmore, to Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and to other state officials, 17 attorneys and three social workers said there is “a specter of wrongdoing” at DCF.”
And while Gilmore said she isn’t commenting on same-sex relationships in speaking about a “preferred” situation for children, Witt said her comments “just proved our point.”
“She will discriminate against gay and lesbian couples,” he said.
Brownback said in an interview earlier this week that he’d welcome a broad audit of the child welfare system. He, too, said DCF officials put the best interest of children first in their decisions.
Gilmore attributed some of the furor to news organizations “connecting the dots” among different cases and partly because, “Well, you know, we live in a political world.”
“I’m not too far from the governor, of course,” she said.
Brownback has been a vocal critic of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage. Witt calls the administration “utterly hostile” to gays and lesbians and said Brownback has appointed “incompetent ideologues” to key positions.
Gilmore said her agency doesn’t track how many gays and lesbians serve as foster parents. She and other DCF officials said same-sex relationships are sometimes noted in reports in individual cases, but only because DCF and its contractors need to know who lives in a home and their relationships before placing a child.
“I’m not a mean-spirited, hateful person making any statement about homosexuality or sexual preference or same-sex marriage, whatever term you want to use,” she said.
Kansas Department for Children and Families: https://www.dcf.ks.gov/ .
Equality Kansas: https://eqks.org/ .
Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .
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