Research: Institute Research
EXPANDING RESOURCES FOR WAITING CHILDREN II: ELIMINATING LEGAL & PRACTICE BARRIERS TO GAY & LESBIAN ADOPTION FROM FOSTER CARE
Authors: Jeanne Howard & Madelyn Freundlich
Published: 2008 Sept. New York NY: Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute
Document Type: Policy Brief (51 pages)
Availability: PDF Full Report | Executive Summary | Web Page | Press Release
This Institute report released in September offers recommendations to increase the pool of prospective adoptive parents for children in foster care by changing state laws and agency practices so they become more welcoming of gay and lesbian applicants. This report builds on the Institute's 2006 Policy & Practice Perspective, "Expanding Resources for Waiting Children: Is Adoption by Gays and Lesbians Part of the Answer?"
provides specific, research-based findings and recommendations relating to state laws and adoption agency policies. The recommendations include:
- State policies should explicitly recognize foster parenting by gays and lesbians, and laws that inhibit or prohibit adoption by non-heterosexual individuals and couples (such as in Florida and Utah) should be rescinded; applicants should be judged on their qualifications, not their sexual orientation.
- State laws should serve children's best interests by permitting joint and second-parent adoptions, and all states should give "full faith and credit" to adoptions legally completed in other states, without regard to the marital status or sexual orientation of the adoptive parents.
- Agencies should assess their policies and practices to ensure that they are welcoming - in recruitment, training and post-placement services - for all qualified family resources who want to provide homes for children in foster care, including gay/lesbian individuals and couples.
For a growing number of boys and girls in foster care, the path to a safe, loving, permanent family is through adoption. These children - most of whom are older and have special physical, mental health, and/or developmental challenges - face gloomy prospects of succeeding in life without adoptive parents who can provide them with affection, nurture, support, and guidance. Often, their foster parents adopt them; in thousands of other cases each year, however, child welfare agencies must recruit new adoptive families to meet these children's needs. That reality has led to an increasingly urgent, nearly universal professional consensus that the pool of potential adoptive parents must be expanded to keep pace with the growing number of children in foster care who are legally free for adoption. Nevertheless, there remains considerable debate over whether all adults, especially those who are lesbian or gay, should be considered as suitable mothers and fathers.
Adoption by non-heterosexuals has been the subject of considerable interest in a rapidly changing legal and policy environment. During the early 2000s, a number of states enacted or attempted to enact legislation to prohibit gays and lesbians from fostering or adopting children. Recently, legislative efforts have taken a different form, in which legislation attempts to accomplish the same goal through broad language that prohibits unmarried, cohabitating couples from fostering or adopting. At the same time, efforts are underway to amend the existing bans on adoption by gay and lesbian individuals and other unmarried, cohabitating couples. In yet other states, laws have been passed to authorize joint or second-parent adoption for gay and lesbian parents (granting parental rights to the partner in a same-sex couple), and such legislation is pending in additional states.
This report builds on the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute's 2006 Policy & Practice Perspective, Expanding Resources for Waiting Children: Is Adoption by Gays and Lesbians Part of the Answer? and, like that initial paper, focuses on meeting the needs of waiting children. It provides an overview of current law and policy, and offers recommendations for expanding the pool of qualified adoptive families for these children by removing legal and practice barriers to gay and lesbian adoption.
About 129,000 waiting children are in need of adoptive homes (USDHHS, 2008).
Research shows that the 25,000 youths who "age out" of foster care each year are at high risk for a host of negative outcomes, including poverty, homelessness, incarceration and early parenthood (Collins, Paris, & Ward, 2008; Courtney, Dworsky, Ruth, Keller, Havlieck, & Bost, 2005; Landsverk, Burns, Stambaugh, & Rolls Reutz, 2006; Wind, Brooks, & Barth, 2005).
Adoption of children from foster care yields substantial savings annually, estimated to be between $3.3 and $6.3 billion nationally (Barth, Lee, Wildfire, & Guo, 2006).
A number of studies have documented that gay and lesbian adults are very willing to adopt children with special needs and, as a demographic group, may be more willing to do so than heterosexual adults (Brooks & Goldberg, 2001; Alcalay, Tyebjee, Shahnaz, & O'Loughlin, 2001; Brodzinsky, Patterson, & Vaziri, 2002).
Data show that gay and lesbian adults provide a significant number of families for children who need foster or adoptive homes.
Researchers estimate over 14,000 children live in lesbian- or gay-led foster families today, while at least 4 percent of all adopted children in the U.S. - about 65,000 - are being raised by gay and lesbian parents (Urban Institute/Williams Institute, 2007).
While the passage of MEPA served a positive purpose in addressing discriminatory practices, more than a decade of experience illustrates that many of the assumptions underlying the development of this law and its subsequent amendment were not accurate and, consequently, the hoped-for outcomes have not been realized. The goals of decreasing the racial disparity in the length of time African American children remain in foster care, their waiting time for adoptive families, and their opportunities for adoption must be met through different policies and practices. Two principles provide a solid framework for meeting the needs of Black children and youth in foster care: that adoption is a service for children, and that acknowledgement of race-related realities - not "color blindness" - must help to shape the development of sound adoption practices. Although color does not influence acceptance and opportunity in an ideal world, the reality of our society is still far from this ideal. Failure to address these social realities in practice is a disservice to children and their adoptive parents, and does not provide the best prospects for successful adoptions.
When children in foster care cannot be safely reunited with their parents or members of their extended families, they need the security, stability and love of adoptive parents. To ensure that children of color are placed with families who can meet their long-term needs, this report makes the following recommendations:
- Reinforce in all adoption-related laws, policies and practices that a child's best interests must be paramount in placement decisions.
- Amend IEP to allow consideration of race/ethnicity in permanency planning and in the preparation of families adopting transracially. The original MEPA standard - which provided that race is one factor, but not the sole factor, to be considered in selecting a foster or adoptive parent for a child in foster care - should be reinstated.
- Enforce the MEPA requirement to recruit families who represent the racial and ethnic backgrounds of children in foster care and provide sufficient resources, including funding, to support such recruitment.
- Address existing barriers to fully engaging minority families in fostering and adopting by developing alliances with faith communities, minority placement agencies, and other minority recruitment programs.
- Provide support for adoption by relatives and, when that is not the best option for a particular child, provide federal funding for subsidized guardianship.
- To help families address their transracially adopted children's needs, provide post-adoption support services from time of placement through children's adolescence.
In order for children of color to be placed with families who can meet their long-term needs, consideration must be given to needs arising from racial/ethnic differences. Consequently, when workers choose permanent families for children, and when they seek to prepare and support them in addressing the children's needs, race must be one consideration - such as promoting connection of the child to adults and children from their own racial/ethnic group, developing a positive racial/ethnic identity, and learning to deal with discrimination they may experience. Sound social work practice to accomplish these goals is severely impeded under current federal law and policy.
Attention to the well-being of African American children in the child welfare system needs to become a top priority for the future development of laws, policies, practice, and research. For decades, we have documented and discussed the reasons for inequities, and it is essential for these children that promising solutions, such as those recommended above, be implemented thoughtfully and expeditiously.
 The Voice for Adoption is a coalition whose Board is composed of Adoption Advocacy, Adopt America Network, Adoption Exchange Association, the Adoption Exchange Inc., Casey Family Services, Child Welfare League of America, Children Awaiting Parents, Family Builders Network, Kinship Center, Lilliput Children's Services, National Adoption Center, New York Council on Adoptable Children, North American Council on Adoptable Children, Spaulding for Children, and Michigan Three Rivers Adoption Council.