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Kansas Foster Care Committee Considers Controversial Research

Andy Marso
Heartland Health Monitor
Sen. Forrest Knox, right, a Republican from Altoona, leads a recent meeting fo the Kansas Legislature's 2015 Special Committee on Foster Care Adequacy.

As concerns circulate about the attitude of the Kansas Department for Children and Families toward adoptions by homosexual couples, a special legislative committee is mulling controversial research about the effects of gay parents on children.

At a meeting last week, the 2015 Special Committee on Foster Care Adequacy heard concerns about the state’s foster care system, which has hit record levels of out-of-home placements in recent years.

A portion of the meeting was set aside to hear from Donald Paul Sullins, a priest and professor at Catholic University of America.

Sullins, testifying via speakerphone, told the committee his recent research indicates that children of same-sex couples are more likely to have a host of emotional problems and be victims of sexual abuse.

Sullins’ study, based on a large sample of government data gleaned from surveys performed between 1997 and 2013, has come under scrutiny based on its methodology.

Philip Cohen, a sociologist from the University of Maryland, joined other researchers in saying there were variables Sullins did not differentiate for, such as how long the children in question had been with the gay couple, whether the gay couple were married or whether one of the parents was the child’s biological parent.

Instead, he grouped all children living with a same-sex couple in one cohort and compared it to children living with married, biological or adoptive parents of different sexes.

Cohen also critiqued the peer-review process used for Sullins’ latest research and the journals in which it was published.

Sullins discussed some of the limitations of his research in an interview with Our Sunday Visitor, a Catholic publication.

He also said that though his research revealed substantial differences in outcomes when children were parented by a same-sex couple versus two biological, married parents, he found no differences when he compared the children of same-sex couples to children being parented by opposite sex couples in which one or both were not the child’s biological parents.

That finding was not discussed at the recent foster care committee meeting.

The meeting occurred the same week a Topeka couple was arrested on child abuse charges. In 2014, a court awarded the couple, who at the time had 10 adopted and four biological children, custody of a child who had been in the care of a lesbian couple since she was 5 days old.  

The committee also heard from Clinton Anderson, who heads anoffice on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender concerns for the American Psychological Association.

Anderson said the association reviewed Sullins’ study and others that show negative outcomes for children of gay parents but found they have “very substantial methodological problems” and could not repeat their results. He said the bulk of the scientific literature shows no differences in the parenting strengths of same-sex parents versus opposite-sex couples.

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, a Republican from Shawnee, said the establishment of Anderson’s office within the American Psychological Association had biased the organization in favor of gay couples.

“It’s too bad that these children have become the subject of political correctness instead of looking at the scientific evidence,” Pilcher-Cook said.

Rep. Annie Tietze, a Democrat from Topeka who is involved with the Court Appointed Special Advocates program, said she feared some of the research the committee was being asked to examine did not account for the prevalence of same-sex couples stepping up to foster children who had been through trauma and had emotional problems.

“I’m real concerned that the way this is headed will be to not allow same-sex parents to have foster care rights,” Tietze said. “I would also, then, in light of that, like to know how many children would that increase in the system that we couldn’t place.”

Knox and his bill

The foster care committee is led by Sen. Forrest Knox, a Republican from Altoona, who said the differences between the two sides on same-sex foster parenting seem irreconcilable.

In February, Knoxintroduced a billthat would have given preferential treatment in the foster care process to Kansans who are married and follow a list of behavioral mandateslike keeping alcohol and tobacco out of their homes.

At the time, gay couples would have been excluded from consideration, because the U.S. Supreme Court had yet to issue the Obergefell v. Hodges decision that compelled Kansas to recognize gay marriage.

Knox provided a set of notes for the special committee that included links to a high-profile case in Utah in which a judge initially pulled a foster child from the home of a lesbian couple.

Knox’s notes also include excerpts from a book called “U Turn: Restoring America to the Strength of its Roots” that criticizes homosexual behavior as something “the Bible explicitly condemns” and says gay marriage has led to plunging rates of heterosexual marriage in other nations.

One of the book’s co-authors, David Barton, had a previous book about Thomas Jefferson pulled from circulation by publisher Thomas Nelson after historians rebutted its contents. An executive from Thomas Nelson, a Christian publishing house, said the company lost confidence in the book’s accuracy.

Knox said the committee received permission to reprint excerpts of “U Turn” from the book’s publisher, Frontline, which is a subsidiary of the Christian publisher Charisma House.

Wichita case

Credit Andy Marso / Heartland Health Monitor
Heartland Health Monitor
Cindy Poe, center in blue shirt, grandmother of a 10-month-old girl who died in July 2014 while in foster care, questioned why the committee focused on the caregivers' sexual orientation rather than drug use.

A tragic story out of Wichita also has become a factor in the legislative debate over foster parenting by same-sex couples.

Rep. Mike Kiegerl, a Republican from Olathe, submitted pages of written testimony to the foster care committee that included an appendix titled “Examples of system breakdown.”

Among the five examples in the appendix was Kadillak Poe-Jones, a 10-month-old Wichita girl who in July 2014 was “left in a hot car and died while the homosexual caregiver smoked marijuana with hid (sic) partner in the house.”

None of the other examples listed the sexual orientation of the caregivers.

The child’s grandmother, Cindy Poe, attended the foster care committee meeting. Afterward, she said the two men who fostered her grandchildren were good parents who made a terrible mistake.

“I didn’t mind the two guys, because they took real good care of my grandbabies,” Poe said, adding that the older kids told her they liked their dads. “You couldn’t ask for a better couple.”

She said she was confused about why legislators have focused on the pair’s sexual orientation rather than asking how their drug use escaped DCF screenings.

Poe was in tears at several points during the meeting. She said she thought it was important for her to be there on behalf of her granddaughter, whom she called “Bunny.”

“Somebody’s got to speak for Bunny,” Poe said, choking up. “She can’t speak for herself. She can’t speak for her little self.”

Andy Marso is a reporter for KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team. You can reach him on Twitter @andymarso

Andy Marso is a reporter for KCUR 89.3 and the Kansas News Service based in Topeka.
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