Kansas Supreme Court declines intervention in controversial child custody case

 December 31, 2023

In the latest twist to a hotly contested adoption case in Kansas, the state Supreme Court has thwarted a government agency's appeal on behalf of a three-year-old child by determining that it would not intervene further in the matter, as the Topeka Capital-Journal reports.

The Kansas high court stated that it simply did not have jurisdiction in appeals related to family custody cases such as this one, which involved a dispute implicating the Kansas Department for Children and Families.

Appeal rejected

As the Capital-Journal explains, the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF) had hoped to reunite the aforementioned child with her foster parents, rather than see her placed with adoptive parents who intended to take the youngster as well as her four siblings.

At issue was the fact that the three-year-old child, known in court filings as X.L., had resided with the foster parents from the time of her birth.

In the intervening years, DCF, along with social services contractor Cornerstones of Care, searched for prospective adoptive families willing to accept X.L. as well as her siblings.

That strategy was consistent with the agency's stated philosophy that keeping siblings together whenever possible was in their best interest.

Foster parents protest

However, X.L.'s foster family argued that DCF had not been making efforts to permanently place the child with her siblings and sought to commence adoption proceedings themselves.

That is when a lower court denied their request, and the foster parents went public with their pleas for assistance in adopting the child.

Those efforts caught the attention of DCF Secretary Laura Howard, who instructed her agency to place the child with the foster family after all, which sparked a challenge from the family wishing to adopt all five of the children together.

Court filings from the prospective adopters argued that DCF's “abrupt decision” to place the child with the foster family ran counter to “various internal procedures and the previous case plan.”

The lower court then found that it was indeed in the child's best interests to be placed with her siblings, and overruled Howard's directive regarding X.L.s fate.

Dispute sparks closer scrutiny

The controversy surrounding X.L.'s placement spurred renewed debate in the state legislature regarding the processes used to determine the placement of siblings, though no resolution has yet been reached.

This case also triggered a closer look at Cornerstones of Care, with at least one Republican lawmaker suggesting that its contract with the state should be terminated.

As NPR affiliate KCUR reported earlier in the year, the agency had already courted significant criticism amid revelations that an alarming number of children had slept in offices when appropriate foster homes could not be identified, but whether any official action will be taken against the entity in the weeks and months to come, only time will tell.

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