Allegations are mounting that the Kansas Department for Children and Families is discriminating against gay and lesbian Kansans who want to provide loving homes and permanent families to the state’s most at-risk children.
The allegations are serious and must be investigated by someone independent of Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration. They may indicate that the state is deliberately violating the rights of same-sex couples.
At the least, they suggest a willingness to place ideological concerns — a disapproval of same-sex relationships — ahead of the interests of vulnerable children.
In recent weeks, two dismaying developments have come to light.
▪ A previously undisclosed 2013 court ruling, which was obtained by several Kansas reporters, shows that Johnson County District Court Judge Kathleen Sloan removed a 16-month-old boy from state custody, alleging that the Department for Children and Families “conducted a witch hunt” in an attempt to dig up “negative information” on two lesbian women.
One of the women had been caring for the baby as a foster parent since he was 3 days old. Sloan found that when Phyllis Gilmore, the department secretary, learned the foster parent was in a long-term relationship with another woman, she embarked on a crusade to discredit the foster parent and her partner.
▪ A lesbian couple from Wichita told The Topeka Capital-Journal they wanted to adopt a girl they had raised for the first 11 months of her life. Their application was denied, and the baby was placed in a home with more than a dozen other children. The parents of that home, Jonathan and Allison Schumm of Topeka, were arrested in November on charges of child abuse.
Tom Witt, executive director of the advocacy group Equality Kansas, said he has heard from other same-sex couples who believe that the Department for Children and Families has blocked them from adopting or caring for children.
“I’ve had four separate couples in my office, at my conference table, emotionally devastated because of what DCF has done to their families,” Witt said.
Witt said the problems began when Gilmore became secretary of the department in 2012. Before that, he said, “I know a lot of same-sex parents who had no problem with the system.”
The Department for Children and Families has said it does not discriminate against same-sex couples.
But the allegations regarding same-sex couples must be reviewed separately and apart from the administration. One key question: Did top administrators overrule the findings of professionals who recommend “best interest” placements for children?
Kansas is coping with record numbers of foster children as serious questions are being raised about the priorities, motives and competency of the top people running the system.
If Brownback cares about children and families, he will move quickly to put child protection services under more capable, less polarizing leadership.