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Groups Testify Against Arkansas Ban on Unmarried Foster Parents

Arkansas is unnecessarily limiting the number of good foster homes by prohibiting unmarried couples living together from taking in children, several advocacy groups told state officials Thursday.

Officials with the Department of Human Services heard testimony from advocates urging the state to drop its policy. The restriction is being reviewed as a campaign is under way for a ballot measure that would bar unmarried couples from being not only foster parents but adoptive parents as well.

"We need more foster homes, not less," said Dr. Jill Fussell, a pediatrician and representative of the Arkansas chapter of the Academy of Pediatrics.

The policy effectively bars same-sex couples from being foster parents. An attorney with the state's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union noted that the restriction was enacted shortly after a judge struck down a direct state ban on gay foster parents.

"Under this directive, gay applicants are routinely denied as potential foster parents. Some have been told they were the perfect placement for special needs children but they were not permitted to serve as foster parents because of this restriction," said Holly Dickson, legal director for the Arkansas chapter of the ACLU.

A representative of the Arkansas Family Council, which is campaigning for the measure that would ban unmarried couples from fostering or adopting children, defended the state's current practice and said it is aimed at placing children in the best environment.

"Of course there are exceptions, but generally speaking there is no better place for a child to be" than with a married couple, said John Thomas, who also identified himself as executive director of the Arkansas Physicians Resource Council.

Officials with Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and other groups are tying Thursday's hearing to a campaign against the item on the Nov. 4 ballot.