LETTING GAY PEOPLE ADOPT WILL SERVE FLORIDA’S FOSTER CHILDREN
Op-Ed: Tallahassee Democrat – Feb. 14, 2006
By Adam Pertman
It is a political mantra, a guiding principle of professional policy and practice, an intuitive truth and an explicit goal of our nation’s laws and practices: Every child deserves to live in a permanent, loving home.
Yet tens of thousands of American boys and girls remain mired in foster care, unable to return to their original families. At the same time, the number of gays and lesbians serving as permanent guardians and foster parents, and willing to adopt, grows daily. It is a reality that has raised hopes across the country among child-welfare professionals, who see a new pool of prospective parents for children who need them.
But not in Florida, where thousands of children ache every day for an adult (often the one raising them) to say, “You are my child forever. You will always have a family.”
Not in Florida, where social workers and judges are barred from using the only standard that make sense – the best interests of the child – when evaluating would-be parents.
Not in Florida, the only state that explicitly bars one group of human beings, based solely on their sexual orientation, from becoming adoptive parents to those waiting children.
Today in Tallahassee, the state Senate Committee on Children and Families will have the opportunity to begin erasing Florida’s dubious distinction – and show that its primary concern is for the kids in government care. The committee will hold a hearing and then a vote on Senate Bill 172, which would allow judges to use the national standard – the best interests of the child – to determine each adoption case individually.
Rather than spending Valentine’s Day at home with my wife and two kids (both adopted, by the way), I will fly to Tallahassee to testify, to add my voice to those of child-welfare experts nationwide who will call for Florida to do the right thing for its kids.
Voting “yes” on SB 172 will hardly represent a radical action, whatever the personal politics or ideological views of the lawmakers involved. After all, it is not as though Florida really prevents lesbians and gays from parenting children; indeed, they can and do serve as foster moms and dads, sometimes for many years at a time, without any evident negative consequences. Furthermore, untold tens of thousands of gay people have parented children in Florida for generations through biology, fostering and adoption, without any evident negative consequences.
The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, which I head, is not a gay/lesbian advocacy organization of any sort. 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 through better laws, policies and practices.
Later this month, we will release our latest study and, by coincidence, it is about gay and lesbian adoption. It contains no shockers; in fact, it simply affirms what previous research has found: Children grow up healthier in loving homes than in temporary government care, even when those homes are headed by homosexual men and women.
That is why a wide array of mainstream organizations – including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of Family Physicians, the National Association of Social Workers, the Child Welfare League of America, and on and on have come to the same conclusion as we have at the Adoption Institute.
This is not a list of groups that would put kids at risk; quite the opposite. The common denominator is that we work, based on the best available information, for the welfare of children. And we all agree Florida’s law does not meet that bottom-line standard.
Not incidentally, most practitioners in the United States have come to the same conclusion. Indeed, another study by the Adoption Institute a few years ago showed that a growing majority of adoption agencies nationwide (though obviously not in Florida) accept applications from gay and lesbian prospective parents, and about 40 percent have placed children with them.
The bottom line is painfully simple: Florida’s ban doesn’t prevent gay adults from becoming parents; they can do that in other ways, in other places. So, instead, it only decreases the odds that children in state custody will ever get permanent, loving homes.
Adam Pertman is the executive director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, a national not-for-profit based in New York. He also is the author of “Adoption Nation: How the Adoption Revolution is Transforming America.”
Originally published February 14, 2006