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On January 1, 2017, the KHI News Service became part of KCUR public radio’s new initiative, the Kansas News Service. The Kansas News Service will continue to cover health policy news and broaden its scope to include education and politics. All stories produced by the former KHI News Service are archived here. Stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to KHI.org.

DCF foster care official involved in same-sex adoption controversy retiring

Official played role in Johnson County case that judge called 'witch hunt' against lesbian foster parents

By | December 04, 2015

DCF foster care official involved in same-sex adoption controversy retiring
Photo by Kansas Department for Children and Families Michael Myers, fourth from left in back row, is retiring from his job overseeing the state’s foster care program. Some critics of the Kansas Department for Children and Families say he is among those responsible for what they believe has been a concerted effort to prevent same-sex couples in Kansas from adopting children. DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore is seated to Gov. Sam Brownback's left.

The man who oversees the state’s foster care program is retiring, a spokesperson for the Kansas Department for Children and Families has confirmed.

Michael Myers, a former Topeka construction executive who has worked in several positions in the child welfare agency under Gov. Sam Brownback, will retire at the end of December. 

DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore named Myers director of prevention and protection services in December 2014. He replaced Brian Dempsey, who abruptly left the agency along with Kathe Decker, former deputy director for family services.

Myers is not a high-profile official, but some critics of the agency say he is among those responsible for what they believe has been a concerted effort to prevent same-sex couples in Kansas from adopting children. He was singled out in a ruling issued by Johnson County District Judge Kathleen Sloan for his role in conducting a “witch hunt” against a lesbian couple in a 2013 foster care/adoption case. 

Sloan said Myers, Gilmore and other agency officials placed their concerns about the couple’s sexuality “above concerns for the child’s best interest.” Myers was director of DCF’s Kansas City regional office at the time of the case. 

“In essence, DCF conducted a ‘witch hunt’ and made a concerted, purposeful effort … to obtain negative information … because they are homosexual women in a committed relationship,” Sloan wrote. “The court cannot reach any other conclusion other than KVC and DCF went out of their way to find any reason to remove (redacted name of the child) from the only home that he had ever known because they did not want this child to be adopted by the only parent he had ever known — a person who also happens to be gay.”

KVC Health Systems was the adoption agency involved in the case. 

Various DCF officials have denied the agency is working to discourage adoptions by gay couples. But Sloan, some legislators and several same-sex couples have said they believe there is a pattern of discrimination

In the Johnson County case, DCF officials removed a 16-month-old old boy from the lesbian couple’s home, citing concerns about safety and their fitness as foster parents. One of the women had acknowledged receiving excess food-stamp benefits and had agreed to repay the state. 

But Judge Sloan said DCF was applying a double standard, noting that Myers had personally approved an adoption in the same time period by a woman who had been found guilty of more serious offenses.

“In another case, this court received a consent by DCF, signed by Michael Myers, consenting to an adoption by a ten-year methamphetamine addict who had convictions of assault, battery, theft, forgery and a bad check on her record,” Sloan wrote. 

Theresa Freed, a spokesperson for DCF, said there is no connection between Myers’ retirement and the emerging controversy about the agency’s adoption policies.

“Before all these stories started coming out, he had made that decision,” Freed said.

In the fall of 2013, Myers was named interim director of DCF’s Wichita regional office after Diane Bidwell resigned. The state was looking into charges that Bidwell was steering children at risk of entering the foster care system toward FaithBuilders, a faith-based group that some parents said was undercutting their efforts to be reunited with their children.

Myers announced his retirement late last week in an internal email.

“It is with Joy and a little sadness that I am announcing my retirement from DCF at the end of the month,” Myers wrote. “After over four years of working at DCF I feel it is time for a new challenge.”

No one has yet been named to replace Myers, Freed said. 

Editor's note: This story was updated at 12:30 p.m. Dec. 7.