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December 9, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback might want to check his facts. He recently declared that the state’s child welfare authority, the Department for Children and Families, “gives everyone a fair shake.” This article quotes him more fully (Topeka Capital Journal, 12/8/15).

“I think the agency gives people a fair shake and does what it is under statute to do, which is to place children in the best interest of the child,” Brownback said in an interview with The Topeka Capital-Journal.

“That’s what they’re required to do by statute. They’re also required by statute to give preference to sibling groups staying together and to place children with relatives wherever possible.”

Hmm. The skeptical among us are inclined to ask “How does he know?” After all, as in all states, Kansas’ DCF functions almost entirely in secret. So, unless Brownback has inside knowledge or has conducted an in-depth study of the agency or seen one the rest of Kansas hasn’t, he doesn’t know what caseworkers are doing or whether it’s working in the best interests of the state’s kids.

And, as we see so often, when a case does come to light, it turns out that the agency did the children under its charge no favors. We know that because the agency is now being sued by several same-sex couples who allege that the DCF discriminated against them. They claim they weren’t allowed to be foster parents or to adopt children out of foster care because of their sexual orientation.

Plus, it looks like those are more than mere allegations made during litigation. The plaintiffs have some rather persuasive evidence to back them up.

In a 2013 decision, Judge Kathleen Sloan removed a then 2-year-old boy from state custody after finding DCF had gone to extraordinary measures to create a case against a lesbian woman who wanted to adopt the foster child she had cared for since birth…

Sloan found that under the direction of DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore, the agency had positioned “concerns for the ‘gay/lesbian’ classification” above the well-being of children in order to block same-sex couples from adopting or fostering…

In the ruling, Sloan wrote that throughout all of the correspondence between agency officials admitted into evidence in the case, “not once” was there any discussion of what was in the best interest of the child.

That does tend to contradict Brownback’s claim that, because the law requires them to, caseworkers always act in the best interests of children. But the case Sloan ruled on isn’t the only time same-sex couples have found themselves paddling upstream in an adoption case.

A number of same-sex couples, including Lisa and Tesa Hines, of Wichita, have also shared allegations of discriminatory treatment with The Capital-Journal and other media.

The Hineses believe they were discriminated against. Last fall they lost custody of a baby who had been in their care for almost a year. The child was placed with Topeka City Councilman Jonathan Schumm and his wife, Allison, but the baby was removed from that home in last month. Both Schumms were arrested on charges of child abuse Nov. 19.

During the Hineses’ custody battle, a social worker briefly visited their home once, but the attorney representing the baby’s best interest never visited their home, Tesa Hines said. The couple believed they had a closer bond with the girl since she lived with them about 11 months, while the Schumms had only seen her for a few hours.

“In my mind that’s not being treated fairly,” she said.

Yes, and they’re not the only ones being treated unfairly. The child who was apparently abused by the Schumms didn’t fare so well either. Perhaps Brownback can explain how the best interests of that child were served by taking it from the Hineses after an 11-month relationship had been established and placing it with a couple who’d barely met the tyke. I’m going to take a wild guess and predict that the governor won’t have much to say on that subject.

Others in the state’s government are less sanguine about the abilities of the DCF than Brownback.

On Thursday, the Legislative Post Audit Committee could tackle a request for an audit from Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, over whether DCF discriminated against same-sex couples in foster care and adoption cases. Ward said Tuesday he also plans to renew a July request for an audit investigating whether the agency follows the best procedures for ensuring children’s safety.

“Both of those issues go against the prime objective of DCF,” Ward said. “Their goal is to protect children.”

An audit. That would be one of those pesky endeavors that seem to invariably uncover the most outrageous wrongdoing and incompetence on the part of child protective agencies. In Arizona, over 6,000 complaints of child abuse or neglect had been completely ignored, according to one investigation. In Richmond, entire files were simply missing and unaccounted for. In Texas, outside investigators found, among other outrages, that the agency had so many different and conflicting policies that caseworkers had no idea of what public policy was regarding children’s protection.

Who wants to bet that an audit in Kansas would come back squeaky clean? Not me.

And, strangely enough, not Brownback either. Consistency may not be the man’s strong point, but to directly contradict oneself in a single interview is quite an accomplishment.

Brownback said he would favor a review of the entire foster care system — as opposed to DCF’s specific handling of the treatment of same-sex foster and adoptive parents.

“I think they ought to look at all of the foster care and adoption system in the state. Another set of eyes on it would be welcome,” Brownback said.

Those are strange words indeed coming from the man who earlier claimed that “the agency gives people a fair shake and does what it is under statute to do…”

Of course the chances are good that discriminating against same-sex parents is probably the least of DCF’s shortcomings. We’ve seen far too much malfeasance on the part of child protective agencies nationwide to believe that the few same-sex couples seeking to adopt is more than just the tip of a very ugly iceberg.

Whatever the case, that’s one of the benefits of lawsuits and audits. They bring the doings of the DCF out from behind closed doors and into the light of day where the public can, at last, see what their servants have been up to.

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