Here is the link and the story.
LITTLE ROCK -- State lawmakers should investigate what led to the Department of Human Services' decision to drop a policy banning unmarried couples living together from serving as foster parents, the conservative Family Council said Friday.
Department officials announced the decision to discontinue the policy on Thursday, one week after holding a hearing to take public comments on the policy. Officials said previously they would accept public comments through Oct. 18.
"I would like for the Arkansas Legislature to look into this because, for one thing, the Department of Human Services appears to have ignored, I'll call it due process, by saying, 'We've heard enough, we don't care if the public-comment period runs for another nine days, we've heard all we need to hear,'" Family Council Executive Director Jerry Cox said at a news conference.
The Family Council is campaigning for an initiated act that would put into law a ban on adoption and foster parenting by unwed couples. Family Council Vice President John Thomas said opponents of that measure appeared to play a large role in the department's decision to discontinue a similar policy less than a month before the election.
"This (Oct. 2) public hearing wasn't even posted on the DHS Web site where they post information on scheduled hearings," Thomas said. "We only happened to find out about it less than 24 hours before last Thursday's public hearing was to take place, yet the room was full of those who were against this DHS policy. They obviously had plenty of notice."
Eighteen people spoke at the hearing in opposition to the policy, while only Thomas and one other person, Dr. Roger Hiatt Jr., spoke in support of it. Cox called the hearing "a sham."
A few days after the hearing, Pat Page, director of the department's Division of Children and Family Services, announced she was retiring early.
Page "was replaced by the spouse of the director of one of the leading groups calling for the discontinuation of the ban," Thomas said, referring to the division's new interim director, Janie Huddleston, wife of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families Executive Director Rich Huddleston.
Arkansas Advocates is the group that requested the Oct. 2 hearing.
"None of this passes the smell test," Thomas said.
Department spokeswoman Julie Munsell said the agency had already been accepting comments for more than the required minimum of 30 days before the Oct. 2 hearing was held. She said the agency will propose a new policy stating that "placement decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis in the best interest of the child" and will accept comments on that policy for at least 30 days.
Munsell said Janie Huddleston was only one of several people who worked on the language of the new proposed policy, along with Page, Department Director John Selig and the staff of Gov. Mike Beebe.
"What needs to and what absolutely has driven the decision-making here has nothing to do with the relationships of any individuals but everything to do with what's in the best interest of children in foster care," she said.
Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families said in a statement Friday, "We're disappointed to hear that leaders of the Family Council are trying to confuse voters about our mission and about what their ballot measure would do to the state's children. We know that citizens will vote no on Act 1 after hearing what Gov. Beebe and DHS leaders said yesterday: Every foster child deserves to find a family that best meets their needs."
Cox said the actions of the department demonstrate the need for voters to approve Initiated Act 1, which he said seeks to blunt a "gay agenda" at work in the state.
"The people of Arkansas need to take this out of the hands of the gay special-interest groups and out of the hands of the bureaucrats who are playing along with them," he said.
Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said serving the best interests of children in state custody has driven the administration's decision-making in the matter.
"The only agenda that the governor and DHS have when it comes to foster children is finding enough good, qualified homes where they can live," DeCample said. "The timing on this was solely a matter of wanting to get things moving as soon as possible."
The department has been under heightened scrutiny following the deaths this summer of four foster children and the convictions of a department-approved foster parent on state and federal charges of abusing children in his care.
The agency has made a number of administrative changes as part of a top-to-bottom review of the state foster care system.
"A big component of that has to be finding more homes" for foster children, DeCample said. "A blanket policy barring some people from even getting into the process is not going to help that problem."