TOPEKA – A conservative Republican’s proposal to have Kansas launch a pilot program to have couples with “stable” marriages who don’t smoke or drink alcohol serve as foster parents for abused and neglected children advanced Monday night in the state Senate.
The GOP-dominated chamber gave first-round approval on a voice vote to a bill from Sen. Forrest Knox, of Altoona. Senators expected to take a final vote Tuesday to determine whether the measure passes and goes to the House.
Knox’s proposal would create a new category of foster homes known as CARE families, for couples who have been legally married at least seven years.
The bill says the family has to have “a lawfully married couple in a stable relationship.”
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It doesn’t specify straight couples, but Knox previously has said publicly that he believes that children usually do best in homes with both a father and mother.
“What we are trying to define are homes that have the ability to meet the needs of these kids that have very special needs,” Knox said during a 2 1/2-hour debate.
The measure specifies that at least one spouse could not work outside the home.
No one in the home could use tobacco, and no alcohol could be present. The family must be “actively, regularly socially involved” in their communities, provide three references and undergo a background check.
Under the bill, the CARE families would be volunteers, but they would have the legal authority to make educational decisions for their children, and the state could reimburse them for up to $4,000 in expenses associated with home or private schooling. The funds to cover those expenses would come from the state – and in theory follow the foster children if they moved from one public school district to another.
“It’s a volunteer pilot program that can help children who are desperate for help,” Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a conservative Shawnee Republican said.
Several senators predicted that the program would siphon money away from public schools, while others said it sent a message that families headed by single parents or grandparents are not doing as good a job raising children.
Sen. David Haley, a Kansas City Democrat, said the bill promoted a “Cleaver standard,” after the family in the late 1950s and early 1960s TV show, “Leave it to Beaver.”
And Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, a Wichita Democrat and single mother, said: “I’m a bit offended by this legislation.”