In Kansas, dozens of foster children are spending their nights not in warm beds in safe homes, but on couches and cots in child welfare offices run by state contractors. These children need loving foster and adoptive families to provide the care they need. Yet, in spite of this crisis, Kansas legislators are trying to make it harder for these children to find families who can give them warm, safe beds. A bill in final negotiations in the legislature could allow taxpayer-funded adoption and foster care agencies to deny kids good homes in the name of religion.
Child placement agencies are supposed to provide services based on what is in the best interest of the child. But under HB 2481, agencies could use religion to refuse to perform, assist, or participate in any child placement. That means agencies that receive state funding could discriminate against prospective adoptive and foster parents because they are a same-sex couple, are interfaith, or were previously divorced.
This bill is astonishing not only because it allows the use of religion to discriminate, but because the needs of children in the state’s child-welfare system are so great. According to The Kansas City Star, 137 children spent at least one night in a child-welfare office during a four-month period in 2017 and 2018, a number State Rep. Linda Gallagher, R-Lenexas calls “shockingly high.” Although the Kansas Department for Children and Families says that it is working to eliminate barriers in the placement process, HB 2481 will simply create more obstacles for children in need of safe, loving homes and the families yearning to provide them.
The reality is that this bill’s main focus is to allow agencies to refuse to work with LGBTQ couples. Unfortunately, some in Kansas may care more about the religious beliefs of child welfare agencies than about finding homes for foster children. One lobbyist working on this bill even said that it would be better for children to sleep on office floors than to be placed with what the person called “high risk” LGBTQ households. The needs of the children must come first.
Religious freedom guarantees all of us the freedom to believe or not as we see fit, but it does not give state-funded agencies the right to use religion as a justification to ignore the best interests of children. State-funded agencies should not deny children loving homes.
The Kansas House is back in session today and may pass this bill at any time. Kansans, tell your state legislators that a child’s best interest must come first. Urge them reject HB 2481!