Category Archives: Op-eds & Commentaries

If Kids Need Families, Why Do We Reject Parents?

September 15, 2011

To read this column on The Huffington Post, go to:

Politicians love to say it. Child-welfare professionals work mightily to practice it. American laws and practices promote its essential truth: every boy and girl deserves to live in a permanent, loving family.

Yet tens of thousands of children in the U.S. spend their lives in temporary (i.e., foster) care, unable to return to their original families and without great prospects for being adopted into new ones. At the same time, the number of gays and lesbians becoming adoptive parents increases daily. This reality has raised hopes throughout our country among children’s advocates who see an underutilized supply of prospective mothers and fathers for so-called “waiting children.”

Across the United States, however, some conservative interest groups and politicians have worked in recent years to implement laws and policies that would prevent lesbians and gay men from providing homes for these boys and girls, and a few such efforts have been successful. The good news is that the research on this subject is almost unanimously one-sided — that is, it shows that non-heterosexuals make good parents, and their children do well (see the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute’s report on the subject, “Expanding Resources for Children,” and my two new books, Adoption by Lesbians and Gay Men: A New Dimension in Family Diversity and Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution Is Transforming Our Families). And, in the legal realm, the latest news is positive, too: the Arkansas Supreme Court recently struck a blow for best practices in child welfare by striking down a 2008 referendum — which allowed only married couples to foster or adopt a child from state care — as unconstitutional.

The bad news is that proponents of such measures are continuing to formulate legal and procedural strategies to accomplish their goal. Some of the activists engaged in the gays-shouldn’t-be-parents campaign acknowledge that they believe non-heterosexuals are problematic simply because of who they are. But most maintain, at least publicly, that they are motivated primarily by a desire to do what’s best for the kids who need families.

It is not homophobia, they insist, to establish rules that promote the benefits of parenting by both a mother and a father who are married to each other. They frequently add that preventing gay men and lesbians from adopting protects children from being negatively influenced, or even physically harmed, by the adults who are supposed to protect them.

Such arguments are, at best, ill-informed and, in many cases, plainly disingenuous. If politicians and others who make those assertions truly believe their own words, they should act quickly to remove the millions of supposedly at-risk girls and boys who are already in families in which one or both parents are gay. More urgently, they should swoop children out of single-parent homes, since those families deprive far more children of two married, cohabitating, heterosexual parents than any other cultural phenomenon in history.

Those are silly suggestions, of course, and no one is going to follow them (though there probably are some people who want to).

The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, which I head, is not a gay/lesbian advocacy organization. We conduct independent, nonpartisan research and education projects on a broad range of subjects in order to improve the lives of everyone touched by adoption — especially children — through better laws, policies and practices.

Among the many reports we have published over the last several years are three about gay and lesbian adoption. They contain no shockers; in fact, they simply affirm what previous research has found: that children grow up healthier in loving families than in temporary care, including when the families are headed by qualified (training, vetting and oversight are all parts of the placement process) lesbians or gay men.

That is why a broad range of professional organizations — including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of Family Physicians, the National Association of Social Workers and the Child Welfare League of America — has come to the same conclusion as we have at the Adoption Institute. These are not fringe groups that would put kids at risk, but just the opposite. The common threads among all of the organizations listed here is that we are in the mainstream and we all work, based on the best available information, for the welfare of children. And we all agree that allowing adoption by qualified gay men and lesbians furthers that objective.

Not incidentally, most adoption practitioners in our country have come to the same conclusion. Indeed, one study by the Adoption Institute showed that a growing majority of agencies nationwide accepts applications from gay and lesbian prospective parents, and at least 40 percent have placed children with them. Again, the social workers, therapists and other professionals at these agencies aren’t in business to hurt boys and girls but to improve their lives. And they’ve decided that that occurs when children stop shuttling between foster homes and are firmly ensconced in permanent ones.

The bottom line is simple: no state can effectively prevent lesbians or gay men from becoming mothers or fathers, because they can do so in other ways — such as surrogacy and insemination — or by moving somewhere that permits them to foster or adopt children. So all a state can accomplish if it imposes restrictions, as Arkansas tried to do and as Utah and Mississippi still do, is to shrink the pool of prospective parents and, as a result, increase the odds that children in its custody will ever receive the benefits of living in permanent, successful families.

Equal Rights … Something We Should All Care About

January 12, 2011

For my second posting on this blog (is it too late to figure out a more elegant word to describe these things?), I’m offering a commentary that is being published today on The Huffington Post. It’s about a subject near and dear to my heart – adult adoptee access to original birth certificates – and the context is what I truly believe it should always be: giving all Americans equal rights. That’s something everyone, and not just people with direct connections to adoption, should care about. Here’s the link to the Huffington Post piece,, and the commentary is also right here:

At the beginning of the 1900s, grim predictions punctuated the debate over women’s suffrage. Everyone in the family unit would be damaged in innumerable ways if this outrage were allowed to happen, argued the critics, some of whom went so far as to predict the end of civilization itself.

Half a century later, another historic social change was in the offing, and the warnings of impending disaster were at least as dire. Indeed, some opponents of the movement to extend civil rights to people of color in our country were so sure that personal and social ruin were lurking around the corner that they fought with filibusters, nooses and guns to maintain the status quo.

Forecasting the future evidently is a difficult thing to do. Looking back is obviously easier, and it leads to two unambiguous conclusions. First, whether the effort is to give women the vote, provide African-Americans with equal rights, create access for people with disabilities — or level the playing field for any other discriminated-against segment of the population — there will be nay-sayers who insist that horrible things will occur if the sought-after change is allowed to transpire. Second, they will be wrong.

No, this is not a commentary about “don’t ask, don’t tell” or any other gay rights issue, though the identical observations would certainly apply. Rather, it’s about providing legal and moral equality for a segment of our population that is not generally perceived as deprived of any rights: the approximately 7 million Americans who were adopted into their families. And the right denied to most of them is so basic that it almost sounds like a joke: access to their own original birth certificates. Continue reading

It’s About All of Us

January 4, 2011

When a colleague at the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute suggested about a year ago that I write a blog, I responded with (how shall I put this gently?) respectful skepticism. Why on earth, I asked, does anyone need yet another voice in the growing chorus of activists, birth and adoptive parents, adopted persons and adoption professionals expressing their views about the array of concerns that affect our lives? What could I possibly add to the mix?

When the publisher of my forthcoming book suggested a few months ago that I write a blog, I replied with the same questions and, at first, I politely declined. Then an answer hit me, which I’ll explain in this initial commentary and will strive to put into practice in subsequent ones.

Here’s the idea: Rather than focusing primarily on my fellow travelers in the adoption world, I’ll use my bit of cyber real estate to explain why everyone – repeat everyone – should care about adult adoptees’ access to their original birth certificates, post-adoption services, birthmother rights, family reunification, older youth aging out of foster care, the nose-dive of adoptions from abroad, gay and lesbian parenting, and a host of other issues that most people assume are too narrow or unimportant for them to think about, or simply are about somebody else. Continue reading

March 1998: Pulitzer Prize Nominated Boston Globe Series on Adoption

What began as a personal family journey became a vivid, open public discussion when the Boston Globe published a groundbreaking series of articles about adoption, written by Adam Pertman, at the time a Globe reporter who, like many other Americans, had adopted children. Adam was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for these articles, which ultimately formed the basis for Adoption Nation.

This series is available on the Globe Online at Use the keyword: Adoption.

Boston Globe Series Part 1 – A private matter no longer

Boston Globe Series Part 2 – Vying to be among the chosen

Boston Globe Series Part 2 – Adoptive, Birthparents staying in touch

Boston Globe Series Part 2 – Permanency is new placement model

Boston Globe Series Part 2 – Corporate America helping foot the bills

Boston Globe Series Part 3 – A search triggers new laws

Boston Globe Series Part 3 – Adoptees not deterred by uncertainty

Boston Globe Series Part 3 – Detectives offer searchers professional help

Boston Globe Series Sidebar -BirthFathers often left out of process

Boston Globe Series Sidebar – Mother regrets pain she caused