Children Are the Winnners When We Replace Stigma With Best Practices for Gay and Lesbian Parents

November 21, 2011

News flash: Today, in every state in America, gay fathers and lesbian mothers are raising children. For a range of reasons, not everyone in our country likes or wants to accept this reality, but it is a reality nevertheless. And it is also true that adoption – primarily of “waiting” children and youth from foster care – is one of the reasons for this growing phenomenon. As National Adoption Awareness Month (also known to many as “November”) comes to a close, I’m happy to report that research and experience show that non-heterosexual parents bring up their children as thoughtfully, competently and with as positive results as their straight counterparts.

Nevertheless, societal stigmas relating to adoption by lesbians and gay men remain, as do institutional barriers. These impediments do not further the best interests of children; indeed, they prevent or delay permanency for many, undermining their long-term psychosocial and academic adjustment. With over 100,000 girls and boys lingering in foster care, despite being legally free for adoption, we need to make every effort to find timely, permanent placements for them as well as for every other child, in the U.S. and abroad, who would benefit from adoption.

In keeping with its strategic priority to conduct work that improves children’s prospects of living in safe and successful families – and just in time for Adoption Month! – the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute has published “Expanding Resources for Children III: Research-Based Best Practices in Adoption by Gays and Lesbians.” To read the report, which is the culmination of four years of research, go to: http://bit.ly/to4CYp. This important work reviews what is known about adoption by non-heterosexual parents and presents new empirical data about their perceptions, experiences and needs. Based on this knowledge, the Institute provides recommendations for improving adoption practice and for strengthening pre-adoption and post-adoption services for their families.

For readers’ background, here are key findings from previous Adoption Institute research:

  • Children growing up in lesbian- and gay-headed households show similar patterns of adjustment as those raised by heterosexuals.
  • Non-heterosexuals adopt children at significant rates; over 65,000 have done so, and 14,000 kids from foster care live in homes headed by gay/lesbian individuals or couples.
  • Most children adopted from foster care are adopted by their foster parents, so banning or hindering lesbians and gay adults from fostering or adopting reduces the number of permanent and nurturing homes for children in need.
  • At least 60% of U.S. adoption agencies accept non-heterosexual parental applicants, and almost 40% have knowingly placed children with them – meaning almost any qualified lesbian, gay man, or same-sex couple can find professionals to work with them.

And here are some major findings from the new report by the Institute:

  • Over 50% of lesbian and gay parents adopted children from the child welfare system, and 60% adopted transracially – so non-heterosexual individuals and couples are important resources for children who linger in foster care.
  • Over 80% of these parents voluntarily shared information about their sexual orientation with adoption workers, and most workers responded in a positive and accepting manner.
  • About one-third of the adoptions by lesbians and gay men in our survey were “open,” and the birth families’ initial reactions upon learning of their sexual orientation were strongly positive (73%). Interestingly, gay male couples more often reported having been chosen because of their sexual orientation than did lesbians, explaining that the birthmothers expressed a desire to remain the child’s “only mother.”
  • Two-thirds of lesbians and gays identified multiple areas of unmet training needs, including those related to general parenting, children’s developmental issues, helping children cope with adoption and parental sexual orientation, and race and culture issues.

In addition, one of the Institute’s most significant recommendations is support and advocacy for same-sex marriage, because the research shows that children benefit financially, socially and in many other ways from having two married parents.

Until recently, few guidelines existed in the area of adoption practice relating to gay and lesbian parenting. In addition, little research had been conducted on adoption by LGBT families or on their experiences and needs in raising their children. That is why the Adoption Institute is providing best-practice guidelines grounded in sound theory, experienced casework and valid empirical data. To read them, please go to the “Expanding Resources for Children III” report at http://bit.ly/to4CYp. To read the Huffington Post commentary I wrote to kick off National Adoption Month, go to: http://huff.to/vyDbPc. To read my last HuffPost commentary on gay/lesbian adoption, go to: http://huff.to/oxDzlu

The new research and policy analysis by the Adoption Institute, as well as the work of other organizations and individuals – notably including the Human Rights Campaign, the British Association for Adoption and Fostering and Professor Gary Mallon – represent important steps in developing better ways of working with families in which the parents happen to be gay or lesbian. As better practices are identified, validated, disseminated and utilized by well-trained professionals, during every National Adoption Awareness Month and in every other month for years and decades to come, the true beneficiaries will be the many thousands of boys and girls whose lives will be improved.

 
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