Controversy over Kansas foster care agency

Department for Children and Families Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said Wednesday she welcomed the audit because she believed it would show that the department does not discriminate against same-sex couples. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal via AP)

Wichita, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas lawmaker said he will seek an audit to determine whether the state Department for Children and Families discriminates against same-sex couples in foster care and adoption cases amid questions about why a Topeka councilman and his wife were granted custody of a child who had been cared for by a lesbian couple for 11 months.

The effort from Rep. Jim Ward, a Democrat from Wichita, comes after the Topeka couple, Jonathan and Allison Schumm, were charged in November with one count each of aggravated battery and four counts of endangering a child. The Department of Children and Families had recommended the couple receive custody of a child who had been in the custody of Lisa and Tesa Hines of Wichita.

Ward's request also comes after a legislative hearing last month during which some lawmakers questioned whether same-sex parents should be allowed to foster children.

Ward said Wednesday he will ask for the audit Dec. 10, when the Legislative Post-Audit Committee meets, The Wichita Eagle reported.

"It never made any sense that a child, an infant, who had bonded with foster parents was going to be pulled from those foster parents to be placed with a family that already had, as I recall, 13 children," said Kari Schmidt, attorney for the Wichita couple, Lisa and Tesa Hines. "It just defied logic. Why would you do that?"

Schmidt said Lisa Hines is a professor of social work at Wichita State University and called her "clearly qualified" to care for the child.

The DCF recommended the Schumms as adoptive parents because they had adopted half-siblings of the child.

"They're hurting children. In their bigotry, in their effort to prevent non-traditional families, they're hurting children," Ward said. "The prime directive of DCF is to do what's in the best interest (of the child). It's not just about the same-sex couples. In fact, it's really about the kids."

Agency Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said Wednesday she welcomed the audit because she believed it would show that the department does not discriminate against same-sex couples.

"We have no policy regarding same-sex couples within our foster care or adoption programs," said Theresa Freed, agency spokeswoman. "Our priority is looking for safe and appropriate homes for each child, and that's determined on a case by case basis."

Freed added that "keeping together siblings is a high priority for our agencies."

Information from: The Wichita Eagle, Wichita, KS.

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The Gayly – December 3, 2015 @ 7 a.m.