The Kansas Legislature just loves children. They make such cute political pawns.

Why else would legislators and Gov. Colyer worsen the state’s already broken adoption system?

Kansas’ foster care and adoption systems are so bad that some homeless children sleep in state offices. Others disappear for weeks. Reports of abuse and neglect are themselves neglected. Sometimes, children die while waiting for someone, anyone, to notice them. Meanwhile, our adoption system remains choked with bureaucracy. Former Insight Kansas columnist and adoption advocate Chapman Rackaway put it this way: “Excessive paperwork, extreme costs, delays and the opportunities for the unscrupulous to take advantage of potential adoptees prevent many from even considering the process seriously, or force the committed to shift to international adoptions.”

Rackaway wrote that in 2013. None of it has improved. The story about children sleeping in offices has made national news. Other foster children have disappeared for weeks at a time. The response? State officials replied that they “probably” knew where the children were.

It is past time for a major overhaul, so what did the Legislature decide to do? Remarkably, it chose to make adoption more difficult. Lawmakers’ last-minute rush job of a bill does nothing about the problems Rackaway identified. Instead, it allows adoption contractors to discriminate against prospective parents who are not heterosexual. It also opens a Pandora’s box of problems, by challenging settled policy. A few other states have done this, too — but that hardly makes it right.

Catholic Family Services argues that the new law protects their religious beliefs. That belies the longstanding policy that while churches are exempt from certain state laws, government contractors are not. Organizations like CFS are not churches. Rather, they are separate, nonprofit entities founded by churches for the purpose of soliciting government contracts. The Episcopal, Lutheran, and other churches and religious organizations do the same. The church may claim exemptions from certain laws and policies, but the nonprofit may not do so if it wishes to bid on government contracts. This makes the process fair and policies consistent, without touching the core functions of the church itself. Apparently, this was not good enough for CFS or the Legislature.

Faith-based groups who opposed this change, such as the Unitarian Universalist Church and the United Churches of Christ, were ignored. Alas, the Legislature seeks to protect the rights of only certain religious groups, depending on how much political influence they have.

What would Jesus do, you ask? Don’t be silly. It’s an election year.

Will other nonprofits be able to place children into loving homes which CFS rejects? Maybe, but all adoption-related nonprofits in Kansas are already stretched to the breaking point.

Children in Kansas’ foster and adoption systems need to find their “forever families.” Instead, the Legislature decided to make it even harder. If this is what it takes to get re-elected around here, then God help us all — especially the children.

 

Michael A. Smith is a professor of political science at Emporia State University.