Policy & Practice: Advocacy
Letter: February 1, 2012
To: Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services, Subcommittee on Social Services
RE: Testimony on SB 349
Respectfully submitted to the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services, Subcommittee on Social Services by Adam Pertman, Executive Director of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute, and Jeanne Howard, Policy & Research Director of the Adoption Institute.
The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute is an independent/nonpartisan, nonprofit research, policy and education organization. We conduct research and analysis in order to improve adoption-related laws, policies and practices. This written testimony regarding SB 349 is intended to explain the state of professional knowledge on one of those issues: the critical need for the largest possible pool of qualified parents to adopt girls and boys languishing in the child welfare system, and the harm to children that results from excluding any single qualified class of parents (such as gay men and lesbians) from that pool. The Institute has conducted the most extensive studies to date on this issue – Expanding Resources for Children I, II, and III – which can be found on our website: http://adoptioninstitute.org
We believe that passing SB 349 – which would permit child-placement agencies in Virginia to exclude some qualified prospective adoptive or foster parents because of religious tenets – would hurt some children who need families. Nationally, there are over 107,000 "waiting" children, who on average have been in care for over three years, and in Virginia there are approximately 1,500 foster youth waiting for adoptive families. Multiple recent studies find these children, most of whom are older and have special developmental challenges, are at considerable risk of serious negative outcomes if they are not adopted. These risks include poverty, homelessness, incarceration, victimization, early parenthood, and significant physical and mental health problems. To succeed, they need adoptive parents who can provide them with nurture and support, not just during childhood but throughout young adulthood.
Even though adoptions from foster care have grown over the past decade, the percentage of youth exiting care without permanent families has increased – about 28,000 "graduate" each year from foster care without such families. According to a recent Child Welfare Outcomes Report from the U.S. Children's Bureau, states vary in their ability to find homes for older youth in care. This report finds that a fairly low percentage of Virginia's child welfare adoptions – 13.3 – are of youth aged 13 or older. Several neighboring jurisdictions report higher rates of success: 20.2% in Tennessee, 18.2% in Kentucky, and 17% in Washington, DC.
Lesbian and gay parents are important family resources for waiting children throughout our country. Several studies have documented that lesbian and gay adults are willing to adopt the very children most in need of homes – those who are older and have special needs – and do so at a higher rate than heterosexual adults. Among same-sex couples raising children, 19% have adopted (which is a much higher percentage than is true of the general population); according to the U.S. census, 2.5 percent of all children are adopted. Gay and lesbian adults provide a significant number of families for children who need foster or adoptive homes – over 14,000 children are estimated to live in lesbian- or gay-led foster families today, while at least 65,000 adopted children are being raised by such parents.
Major professional groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association, as well as child welfare organizations overwhelmingly support adoptions by qualified gay and lesbian parents. The support of these professional organizations is not surprising. A quarter century of research on children has found that those raised by gay and lesbian parents fare well – on par with those reared by heterosexual parents.
Every minute we retain the status quo by allowing agencies who serve children in the child welfare system to discriminate against these families undermines the prospects of some boys and girls for finding permanent, loving families. Applicants should be judged on their qualifications, not their sexual orientation. Including gays and lesbians as adoptive parents for these children also would save the state substantial funds annually, resulting from moving children from foster care to adoption.
Too often, public policy relating to adoption has been based on aberrational anecdotes, emotional appeals, and corrosive myths. Instead, please examine the research. I believe that, after you do, you will come to the same conclusion: To exclude qualified and eager prospective foster and adoptive parents is to place the wishes/beliefs of some individuals over the desperate need for homes for children. The Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute strongly urges you to vote against this legislation. Please feel free to contact me at (617) 332-8944 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions or need more information. Thank you for your attention and for your important work.
Adam Pertman, Executive Director