Tag Archives: LGBT adoption

Are Children’s Issues Only Important in Attack Videos?

January 10, 2012

To read this column on The Huffington Post, go tohttp://huff.to/xz5Dxk

Politicians love children. We believe that to be true because they say it all the time (you know, things like “children are our future”). They also showcase their own kids during commercials, campaign with them if they’re old enough, and even kiss babies when they get the chance.

So why, when they make their policy decisions and set their public priorities, do so few of our elected officials offer specific plans — as they routinely do for budget cuts, military spending and an array of other matters — for how they would provide children with better medical care, enhanced educational opportunities or increased prospects for success, for instance by reforming the foster care system so that more boys and girls can stop shuttling from home to home and can, instead, move into permanent, loving families? Children are routinely cited as the beneficiaries of the ideas politicians suggest, whether tax cuts or hikes, increased spending or less of it. But it’s hard to recall a single instance of a candidate advocating a specific programmatic initiative with children at its core.

All this comes to mind because child welfare, specifically relating to international adoption, actually has recently made it onto the political radar screen — although not exactly in the way one would have hoped. Rather than appearing because a candidate finally decided that children’s well-being should be on the list of America’s explicit priorities, the issue arose instead because someone decided it was good fodder for an attack ad.

The YouTube video, released by self-proclaimed supporters of Texas Congressman Ron Paul, labels presidential rival John Huntsman as a “Manchurian Candidate.” It contains one shot of the former Utah governor holding his daughter born in India and another of him with his daughter born in China; disparaging captions accompany each photo, with the cumulative objective of questioning Huntsman’s values.

It’s a revolting piece of work on many levels. Using children as a weapon against their parents for political gain crosses the most basic ethical line. And, as the leader of an adoption research and policy organization, I find it truly unsettling that anyone can suggest that providing a family for a child from another nation is somehow an indicator of the parents’ loyalty to their own.

Huntsman denounced the ad, of course, explaining that his Chinese daughter had been abandoned and his Indian daughter had been “left for dead” (unfortunately implying that adoption is a means of rescuing children rather than a way of forming families — but that’s a commentary for another day), and saying that his two adopted girls are “a daily reminder that there are a lot of kids in this world who don’t have the breaks that you do.”

What Huntsman did not do — and neither did any of the other candidates, nor any of the journalists covering them — is use this vicious video as the jumping off point for a discussion of the children in our own country and in others who “don’t have the breaks that you do.” Most to the point, no one used the occasion to suggest ways to actually do something about it.

Is the message clear yet? Just in case I’ve been too subtle, here’s the point: Children’s concerns, embedded in concrete proposals and programs, should be on the priority list of every candidate in every party of every ideology running for every office, right there alongside national security, improving the economy and other genuinely vital issues. Nearly every politician says it’s already true, so how about if journalists and advocacy groups and Facebook-ers and Twitter-ers and voters in the audience posing questions at debates start demanding chapter and verse?

It’s wonderful that Michele Bachmann provided foster care for 23 teenage girls, but it would have been more wonderful to turn her experience from a talking point on the campaign trail into a conversation about how to solve the problem of older youth aging out of the U.S. child welfare system without families (see the Adoption Institute’s report on the subject).

It’s important for the candidates to discuss LGBT issues, but why is that almost always done with the focus solely on the adults — i.e., should they be allowed to marry and so forth? How about if we flip the focus and ask about all the children in our country languishing in foster care, pointing out the research showing that lesbians and gay men provide good homes for a growing number of these boys and girls (see the Adoption Institute’s report on the subject)?

And when candidates run or are considered for any office, how about if the media shine a spotlight on their records on adoption, foster care and children’s issues in general, in addition to all the others that journalists already scrutinize? If Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey is considered a serious vice presidential candidate, for instance, he should have to explain why he vetoed legislation last year that would have given adopted adults in his state the same rights to their original birth certificates — and thereby the same access to their medical and historical information — as everyone else has as a matter of course.

Children don’t lobby, they don’t vote and they don’t contribute big bucks to political campaigns, so it’s not a big surprise that questions of the kind I’m suggesting haven’t made it to center stage yet. But they should and, to quote nearly every politician who ever was, here’s why: Children, really and truly, are our future.

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.

Immigration and ‘Shattered Families’

November 8, 2011

The mantra is now (almost) universal: Adoption, first and foremost, should serve the best interests of children and, whenever possible, those girls and boys should be raised in their families and communities of origin. Unfortunately – sometimes because of well-intentioned ignorance, sometimes because of selfishness or greed, sometimes because of ideological or religious or simply misguided beliefs – that’s not always what happens in real life. And the results are not only brutal for the individuals involved, but also chip away at the institution of adoption itself.

Every incident of a mother being coerced, or of a child being trafficked (or “returned”) or of an adoptive parent being scammed pierces the hearts and/or undermines the futures of those directly affected, and that’s bad enough. But it also fills the public’s vacuum of knowledge about adoption with a sense that these singular stories are more representative of a general reality than they really are. This is not in any way an apologia for any of the bad stuff; quite the opposite. It means that, as long as adoption exists, we have to work mightily to make it as ethical and humane as we possibly can, and I’m proud to lead an organization that is committed to achieving those goals.

All of which gets me to the bottom line of this short commentary. While there’s lots of disagreement in the child welfare and adoption worlds about the issues I raise above – that is, what constitutes best interests, how prevalent the abuses are, etc. – there are cases when we should all be able to unite and say: “This sure looks broken and we need to fix it.” A new report entitled “Shattered Families,” published by the Applied Research Center, looks like one of those cases. It documents how thousands of children are removed from the custody of detained or deported undocumented workers in this country, and are placed in foster care. Here’s a link: http://arc.org/shatteredfamilies.

Some number of these children presumably are adopted into new families, even though they have mothers and fathers who want to raise them and could do so. Unless something’s seriously wrong with the research itself (and no one seems to have raised concern about it), this should be cause for alarm bells going off and voices uniting to demand reforms. Even as politicians on all sides try to shape Immigration policy that makes sense for this country and the people who want to move here, they should ensure that children and their families – and adoption itself – don’t become victims during the debate.

From Steve Jobs to Kids in Foster Care: Lessons During National Adoption Month

October 31, 2011

To read this column on The Huffington Post, go to: http://huff.to/v7WTPf.

With seemingly ceaseless regularity nowadays, most recently in the coverage of Steve Jobs’ passing, we are inundated by conflicting messages relating to adoption.

For the next few weeks, the wonder of adoption will be on display. November is National Adoption Awareness Month, so media outlets nationwide will be — and should be — writing stories about children whose lives are improved as a result of moving from foster care into permanent, loving families. President Obama will even issue a proclamation, as he and his predecessors have done routinely in past years, saying something to the effect that our country is blessed by this extraordinary institution.

At other times, of course, a very different picture is transmitted. Sometimes the focus is on adoptive parents who seem to regard adoption as child rental (remember the mother who “returned” her son to Russia?) or ones who purportedly use the child welfare system as a means of getting monthly support payments; the most sensational case took place several years ago in New Jersey, where a couple allegedly starved their four adopted sons in order to retain more of their state subsidies.

Press accounts cast an appropriately suspicious eye on parents who commit such horrid acts but, all too often, they also raise broader concerns about the competence and motives of adoptive parents per se; in particular, they implicitly or explicitly suggest that people may adopt children for dubious reasons or even that adoption itself is somehow a less-legitimate or less-desirable means of building a family than is childbirth. In the coverage of Jobs, for instance, we’re regularly seeing and reading reports that question his being “given away” by his “real parents” — language that hardly affirms adoption as a positive option.

So which is it? Lucky kids or kids relegated to second-class families? Good people trying to do the right thing for their children, either by placing their children for adoption or adopting them, or desperate people with suspect motives? What are we to think when we receive such disparate impressions, not just today, but time after time when there’s a high-profile story involving adoption? Or even when adoption is depicted in either very positive ways (“Modern Family”) or chillingly negative ways (“Orphan”) in the movies and on television?

Based on available research and extensive experience, two unambiguous images emerge: that most adoptive parents are doing the same things as most biological parents — that is, providing their children with all the affection and care they humanly can; and that, with rare exceptions, boys and girls are far better off in permanent families than in foster care, orphanages or any other temporary or institutional setting.

But adoption’s history of secrecy has afforded us with too few opportunities to learn about its realities. So we tend to assume we’re learning far more from singular, usually aberrational experiences — man bites dog is a story, after all, while dog bites man is not — than we usually are.

Yes, financial payments intended to increase the number of adoptions from foster care can cause complications, but that’s the clear exception. And, yes, families sometimes struggle as a result of the challenges their children face as a consequence of having been mistreated and/or institutionalized before they were adopted. But there is no indication that horrors such as the ones that typically make the news are being repeated with any regularity elsewhere, even though many thousands of parents throughout the country receive state subsidies — and even though the number of children being adopted from foster care is at historic highs.

Moreover, even in the most troubled systems, good things are happening daily. Most children are being reunited with newly healthy mothers, fathers and other biological relatives, while a fast-growing number of kids — over 52,000 last year alone and over 57,000 the year before that — are being adopted by loving parents who treat them well. The same is true for the hundreds of thousands of girls and boys who have been adopted from orphanages abroad over the last couple of decades.

It’s hard to learn much from secrets, so we as a culture don’t yet know enough about adoptions from foster care and institutions to put the aberrational stories in perspective. That’s changing, to be sure; organizations such as the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, which I’m proud to lead, are providing more and better research and knowledge – please take a look at www.adoptioninstitute.org to read our most recent work – and, partly as a result, the media are doing a better and better job of informing the public, policy-makers and others who profoundly affect the tens of millions of children and families for whom adoption and foster care are daily realities.

Even as we make progress, however, the still-widespread lack of knowledge has tangible, negative consequences that play out in the attitudes all these people encounter and the policies that impact their lives.

I am not defending any system that does less than everything possible to protect the children within it. But we live in a society in which nearly every program that helps vulnerable children receives insufficient resources; in which well-intentioned quick fixes replace (rather than augment) thoughtful, long-term solutions such as post-adoption services; and in which cases like the ones I’ve cited above fuel our worst stereotypes about adoptive parents, birth parents, their children, and adoption itself.

A positive and fair question for the media to ask (but I haven’t yet heard it asked) would be something like this: Would the world have had Steve Jobs without adoption?

During National Adoption Awareness Month, states across the country will celebrate by holding public ceremonies at which hundreds upon hundreds of children will receive the opportunity to move into permanent, loving and successful families.

I’d like to suggest it’s also a good time for all of us to start learning more about adoption, foster care and institutionalization (orphanages), because the problems will be fixed more rapidly if faulty stereotypes are replaced by genuine understandings. And the ultimate beneficiaries will be the hundreds of thousands of boys and girls, in our own country and others, who will still need homes long after we turn another page on our calendars.

If Kids Need Families, Why Do We Reject Parents?

September 15, 2011

To read this column on The Huffington Post, go to: http://tinyurl.com/pertmanhuff

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.