Every day, I help children in foster care unite with loving families who will care for them unconditionally. Sadly, there are painful moments in my job where that just doesn’t happen. And the Kansas Legislature may make it even harder to find qualified parents for these children.
I remember a child I had the honor to get to know through my work. He had the biggest, most beautiful brown eyes. He loved making crafts and was learning to sew. However, he spent years being placed in multiple foster homes who were not supportive of him because he was perceived as being too feminine. That boy, who deserved a life like any other child, died by suicide. He was just 11 years old.
That night is burned into my memory — the night I sat with his body while his foster family was questioned.
This bright, beautiful child deserved to live. He deserved a family who loved him, a family who would help him grow and thrive. He deserved to go to middle school, to learn to drive and to grow up and have a family of his own one day. He deserved to love whomever he loved and be exactly who he was meant to be.
However, there is a force in the Statehouse aiming to make that even more difficult for more children. The Kansas Legislature is considering a bill that would allow a government contractor providing child placement services to decline any qualified prospective parents who don’t align with the contractor’s religious beliefs. That could include same-sex couples, people of faiths different from that of the agency, single parents, or married couples where one prospective parent had previously been divorced. These potential parents would have no legal recourse, even if they are a member of the child’s extended family.
When I heard about this bill, my mind went back to that awful, awful night. A child with a future ahead of him was dead because he was not loved for who he was. I can’t help but think: Had he been placed with a family that looked like the future he wanted — full of love and light — he may have lived.
Ensuring that all children are cared for by parents who understand, welcome and affirm the core of who they are, even as they struggle to figure that piece out, is a human right that cannot be ignored by the child welfare system.
That’s why my organization reached out to the Human Rights Campaign, so agencies like ours can provide our well-meaning staff the tools necessary to understand that which is unfamiliar, to create an environment which is welcoming and affirming to many LGBTQ-headed families for our children, and to assure that we can place kids who are LGBTQ in homes with families that will truly support them for who they are.
However, I know that work cannot stop there. Advocating for these kids is about more than just placing them with a family. We must make sure our elected officials are keeping these children’s welfare in mind as much as FosterAdopt Connect does every day.
This bill will cause more and more children to go without loving, qualified parents. The best interests of the child are not served by enshrining taxpayer-funded discrimination into law — as this law aims to do.
The nation’s leading child welfare agencies such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, Child Welfare League of America and the North American Council on Adoptable Children have condemned bills just like this one. This bill is a disservice to the children of Kansas, and also to the loving parents who just want to ensure that Kansas’ children have homes to live in.
I want to send a message to the Statehouse and to any legislator considering this negligent, harmful bill: Writing this discrimination into law will devastate countless children in our foster care system — children who want nothing more than a loving home, a warm bed and a parent to show their good grades to. Please do everything in your power to ensure this bill does not become law.
Lori Ross is CEO of FosterAdopt Connect, a nonprofit agency serving abused and neglected children and the families caring for them.