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Smaller Agencies, But Not Larger Groups, Can Turn Away Same-Sex Parents From Kansas Foster Care

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Kansas News Service
The Kansas Department for Children and Families tried to clarify child placement rules on Wednesday.

A new system for hiring agencies to coordinate adoptions and foster care placements in Kansas will continue to let some groups cite religious beliefs to exclude some prospective parents — including gay couples.

The Department for Children and Families earlier this week had left lawmakers confused about whether a new grant system would extend those religious protections to the agencies taking over statewide foster care and family preservation contracts.

Agency officials on Wednesday said that some organizations won’t be able to impose their religious thinking when choosing parents, but that some still retain that power.

A law signed into effect this spring underscored the ability of the faith-based standards — promoted as a way to draw more agencies into the process.

DCF spokeswoman Taylor Forrest said none of the companies with grants to manage wide-ranging child welfare on behalf of the state can use the religious exemption to turn away families.

Yet other agencies — groups reimbursed based on how many foster placements or adoptions they set up for a child in state custody — can use the religious exemption.

The grant system splits Kansas into four family preservation regions and eight foster care regions. An agency that gets a grant to provide one of those services in a region oversees all kids and families referred in that region. They can’t use religious beliefs to turn anyone away.

A second class of placement agency handles more narrow duties. Groups that fall in that category can be tapped by DCF to find homes for individual kids. They’ll get reimbursed on a case-by-case basis for each kid they house with a family. Unlike the agencies hired to manage a range of services in a region, they can use their own religiously driven standards to choose which parents to use as foster and adoptive families.

At a Monday gathering of the state’s Child Welfare System Task Force, DCF secretary Gina Meier-Hummel said her department will also directly reimburse child placing agencies when the new system takes effect in July 2019. Under the current system, that work is usually done through a contractor.

She said the new system will give DCF more direct oversight of the welfare of children in foster care.

Those per-placement payouts could go to faith-based groups with moral objections to same-sex couples and divorced or single parents. Lawmakers who lost that fight in the spring legislative session maintained their objections.

“What is being done here is smoke and mirrors to provide public money to organizations that intend to discriminate on the basis of religious belief and to discriminate against LGBT Kansans,” said Rep. John Carmichael. He was the House Democrat assigned to work out a compromise between the House and Senate versions of the adoption bill that became law with Gov. Jeff Colyer’s signature.

Thomas Witt, director of the LGBT advocacy organization Equality Kansas, said no state dollars should go to agencies that shut out parents because they’re same-sex couples.

“These agencies want to tell some taxpayers, ‘You’re not good enough’,” he said.

Madeline Fox is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @maddycfox.
Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

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