As criticism grows that same-sex couples have faced discrimination in Kansas foster care and adoption programs, Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas said Tuesday that he favored a thorough audit of the system.
But Brownback deflected recent calls for the removal of Phyllis Gilmore as secretary of the Department for Children and Families.
“Phyllis is a good person with a strong set of experiences and background,” he said. “Let’s take a look at what’s happening in the system.”
Several same-sex couples have said they faced unfair treatment from DCF, including cases in which the agency recommended taking children from lesbian foster parents who wanted to adopt.
“The policy for our placement of children is what’s in the best interest of the child,” Brownback said.
He said state and federal laws favor keeping sibling groups together and placing children with relatives whenever possible.
“You’ve got all those factors in some of these cases that people are talking about,” he said.
Placement home studies are conducted by contractors in the state’s privatized system, Brownback said, and he thinks the system ought to be reviewed by auditors.
“I think some people really question whether we’re getting children into the right foster care situation,” he said. “We’ve had a growing number of children in foster care, and I don’t like to see that. Apparently it’s because of length of time in foster care, not so much the number. But I think it’s worth another set of eyes looking into it.”
Last week, in a sealed 2013 court ruling, a judge wrote that DCF conducted a “witch hunt” looking for negative information about a lesbian couple seeking to adopt an infant they had cared for since birth.
DCF officials have said that they don’t show preference to heterosexual couples over gay and lesbian couples and that for confidentiality reasons they can’t comment on specific cases.
Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, said Brownback’s call for a review of the system doesn’t go far enough. A thorough investigation is needed into each case in which discrimination has been alleged, he said.
“They’re going to want to make this whole thing go away,” Witt said. “We’re going to insist on a full investigation of these cases.”
In an interview with The Kansas City Star on Monday, Brownback also addressed what he called the state’s security concerns, including the issue of refugees from Syria.
Brownback has drawn intense criticism for his executive order directing no state agency or organization that receives state grant money to participate in the relocation of Syrian refugees to Kansas.
“I do not think it’s prudent for us to bring refugees in from the ISIS region into Kansas,” he said. “ISIS is a franchise operation. We don’t need more potential franchises from ISIS in Kansas.”
Brownback said he is monitoring President Barack Obama’s proposal to close the Guantanamo detention facility and to move detainees to facilities in the United States.
“We don’t know where Fort Leavenworth is on the list, but we’re going to continue to fight,” he said.