Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Scrutiny Looms over DCF ; Audit Request into Potential Discrimination Declined; Larger Investigation Possible

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Scrutiny Looms over DCF ; Audit Request into Potential Discrimination Declined; Larger Investigation Possible

Article excerpt

More than a dozen attorneys say the "specter of alleged wrongdoing" now clouds Kansas foster care and adoption cases as lawmakers opted Thursday not to immediately approve an audit of the Department for Children and Families.

The Legislative Post Audit Committee instead elected to create a subcommittee to develop a proposal for a comprehensive audit of the agency. Rep. Jim Ward, D-Wichita, had asked for an examination into potential discrimination against same-sex couples by DCF.

Both Republicans and Democrats expressed concerns with the agency, which has attracted scrutiny over the past year, first over the safety of children in foster care and, within the past couple weeks, accusations the agency discriminates.

Shortly before the Post Audit Committee met to consider Ward's request, the lawmaker distributed an open letter signed by 17 attorneys and three social workers that calls for an investigation of DCF.

"In recent days, concerns which have long been held by attorneys and personnel who work within this system have been brought to light," the letter reads.

"Whether these claims are true or not, the specter of alleged wrongdoing by the Department for Children and Families now clouds cases which are already difficult enough."

DCF spokeswoman Theresa Freed on Thursday said only that the agency doesn't have a policy on same-sex couples and that its priority is the best interest of the child.

Additionally, a letter signed by an attorney directly alleges DCF refused to consider adoption to a paternal grandmother because she was a lesbian. The letter was provided to a reporter on condition the name of the attorney wouldn't be revealed.

The attorney writes DCF wouldn't consider the paternal grandmother's wife's income as part of a potential home study, effectively rendering the adoption improbable based on lack of income.

"They would not consider the income because they would not recognize the marriage in another state as they were same sex partners. I have a transcript of the proceeding in which DCF made their position against same sex marriage clear," the attorney writes in the letter.

The letter doesn't disclose when the case was considered. Kansas has allowed same-sex marriage only since late 2014. The attorney wrote the transcript couldn't currently be disclosed because of confidentiality laws.

State auditors would be exempt from such confidentiality requirements and would be able to examine court documents otherwise shielded from public view.

"I believe the evidence is there and if given the protection of a post audit, there will be substantial evidence of discrimination by DCF," Ward said.

Attention on DCF has intensified in recent weeks after a 2013 court ruling from Johnson County District Judge Kathleen Sloan found the agency 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. …

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