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Kansas Reviewing Foster Care Policies; Advocates Uneasy



Kansas officials are reviewing foster care policies, sparking concerns among some advocates that the state will stop placing abused and neglected children with gay couples, even after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage.

But spokeswoman Theresa Freed said Tuesday that the state Department for Children and Families' review will be broad and cover more than who should serve as foster parents. She said the agency isn't presuming policies need to be changed.

The department's review of policies comes as two Democratic legislators called for an audit of the state's foster care program to see whether it adequately protects children.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that questions about DCF's plans arose last week when Douglas County District Judge Peggy Carr Kittel sent a letter to a regional official, asking whether the agency intends to allow only married couples to serve as foster parents and, if so, whether same-sex couples' marriages would be recognized as qualifying them, in line with the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has been a vocal supporter of the state's ban on same-sex marriage, nullified by the U.S. Supreme Court decision last month on gay marriage. In a legislative hearing earlier this year, Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said DCF supported healthy marriages "defined in the Kansas Constitution."

Freed said the department is examining the policies because Brownback transferred the licensing of foster homes this month to DCF from the Department of Health and Environment. DCF already administered foster care.

"There's just been a lot of speculation about what's going to happen," Freed said Tuesday. "That's unfortunate."

The Republican-dominated Legislature also has set up a special committee to review foster care program later this year, including qualifications for foster parents.

Democratic state Reps. Ed Trimmer, of Winfield, and Jim Ward, of Wichita, called for an audit of the foster care program, saying they're worried about children being pulled from troubled homes too slowly or returned to them too quickly. A legislative panel that initiates state government audits was set to meet Wednesday.

The state places children in foster homes through two private groups, KVC Kansas, based in Olathe, and St. Francis Community Services, based in Salina, affiliated with the Episcopal Church. They in turn work with subcontractors, Freed said.

Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, the state's leading gay-rights group, noted that Brownback earlier this month issued an executive order forbidding state agencies from punishing religious groups over their opposition to gay marriage, including social service contractors. Witt said the order would allow such groups to "ignore our marriages."

Mark Johnson, a Kansas City-area attorney who's assisted the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit against Kansas' gay-marriage ban, said the state can't "arbitrarily" change its policies on who can serve as foster parents.

Kittel said in her letter that she's concerned that a new policy could exclude "some very good people" as foster parents and spark an expensive lawsuit.

Brownback said during a Statehouse news conference Friday that he doesn't know what the Department for Children and Families is considering. But he said he thinks the agency is open to any change that helps abused and neglected children.

"Our objective is to get that child in the best environment we possibly we can," he said.