Lawmakers again reject call to audit for LGBT discrimination in Kansas foster care

TOPEKA — A legislative committee voted along party lines Tuesday not to conduct an audit to find out if the Department for Children and Families discriminates against same-sex couples in placing children in adoptive homes and foster care.

It was the third time the Legislative Post Audit Committee has either rejected or postponed consideration of such a study. This time, the vote came after DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore issued a written blanket denial that the agency engages in any such discrimination.

“We have reviewed our policies and procedures and do not have any policies, forms or other documents related to same-sex couples or other individuals in non-traditional family structures serving as foster or adoptive parents,” Gilmore wrote in a letter to the committee.

“I think I favor taking them at their word since they have formally come out and said that they are not discriminating and they don’t have policies either for same-sex couples or against same-sex couples,” said Sen. Jeff Longbine, R-Emporia. “Maybe we should take them at their word for a little while and see how they behave.”

But Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, who has called for the audit, called the committee’s action “shameful” and said there is already substantial anecdotal evidence of blatant discrimination against same-sex couples.

“A court finding that there is a ‘witch hunt’ for same-sex couples and families to avoid adoption or foster care,” he said, referring to a 2013 court case from Johnson County in which DCF sought to block a lesbian couple from adopting a child.

“We had a letter signed by 17 attorneys involved in the child in need of care process who deal with DCF, three social workers who said there are significant problems here, and there are a dozen cases out there where serious questions were raised,” Ward said.

The Post Audit Committee met Tuesday to approve a list of audits that will be conducted over the next year.

Some members of the panel noted that the committee has already approved a wide-ranging, comprehensive audit of DCF practices and procedures managing the state’s child welfare system, and that an additional audit focusing only on alleged discrimination against same-sex families would delay progress on that larger audit.

Ward first called for an audit of alleged discrimination against same-sex couples in December following reports of alleged child abuse in a foster home run by a Topeka city councilman and his wife who had 16 children living with them, including 10 adopted children and two foster children.

One of those foster children, a 1-year-old boy, had recently been placed there after being removed from the home of a same-sex couple in Wichita who had cared for him since a few days after he was born.

The committee at that time tentatively accepted the idea, but referred the issue to a subcommittee to recommend an exact “scope statement” that would define the parameters of the audit to be conducted.

After the subcommittee made its recommendation, the full panel met in January, and a motion to proceed with the audit failed on a 5-5 tie vote, with then-Chairman Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, casting the tie-creating vote.

On Tuesday, the panel met again to consider a list of audits to be done in the upcoming fiscal year, and there Ward renewed his request for an audit of alleged anti-LGBT bias in the child welfare system. This time it failed on a 4-5 vote.