Case Highlights Dangers of Banning Gay & Lesbian Adoption
from Spring 2002 Adoptalk
by Diane Riggs
During an ABC Primetime Special in March, millions of viewers saw entertainer Rosie O'Donnellan adoptive mother of three childrenreveal that she's a lesbian. Viewers also glimpsed into the lives of Steve Lofton and Roger Croteau, highly respected foster parents who cannot adopt three Florida foster children (ages 10, 14, and 14) whom they have raised since birth because of a 1977 Florida law that prohibits gays and lesbians from adopting children.
Steve and Roger are parenting five foster children, and all were HIV-positive at placement. Now, because the 10-year-old is no longer HIV-positive (and under age 12the age at which a childs preference is taken into consideration), Florida has determined that he needs an adoptive homea home away from the only parents and siblings hes ever known.
Since when does child welfare mean taking or keeping a child from a stable, loving family?
It doesn't. In fact, when any class or group of adults is wholly excluded from fostering or adopting, children's welfare is compromised. Children's best interests are served when child welfare agencies review prospective parents individually to determine if each is able to care for, nurture, and advocate on behalf of a particular child or sibling group. Foster parents who develop a healthy, long-term bond with a child should be the first choice for adoption.
Recent events have re-ignited the gay and lesbian adoption debate. In February, the American Academy of Pediatrics declared its support for legal adoption by both partners in a committed same-sex relationship. Later that month, American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyerswho are representing Lofton, Croteau, and several others in a suit against Floridaasked the 11th District U.S. Court of Appeals to overturn Floridas ban on gay adoption. Soon after, prominent national child welfare groups (including the Child Welfare League of America) filed a brief of amici cureae in support of the ACLU case.
In early March, nine former Florida legislators who supported the ban on gay adoptions in 1977 issued statements calling for the law to be repealed. A week later, Rosie O'Donnell declared her support for gay adoption, and echoed the call for repealing Florida's gay adoption ban.
Dangers of Discriminatory Policy and Practice
The Florida case vividly illustrates how discriminatory policy and practice can hurt children. According to children's best interests standards that focus on healthy attachments and continuity, a boy who is legally free for adoption and has lived happily and securely with the same foster family for 10 years should stay with that family. It makes no sense that a family who is deemed well-qualified to raise a child for a decade is not accorded standing to adopt.
Why would child welfare policies force workers to waste time finding a new home for a child who is deeply attached to the caring family he's lived with since infancy? From a child welfare perspective, there is no rational reason to forcibly separate a child from siblings and parents with whom he has enjoyed a secure and loving relationship his whole life. Other children would be lucky to have such a family!
By dictating that older children cannot choose to be placed with or remain with certain families, Florida's law also flies in the face of solid matching strategies. Older children should participate in decisions about their future. Practices that eliminate an entire class of adults from consideration can keep children from gaining a sense of involvement that is so important to smoothing older child placements.
Discriminatory practices also hurt agencies' ability to recruit adoptive families. By eliminating a whole class of prospective parents, agencies lose families well qualified to parent special children. Fewer adoptive families mean fewer adoptions and longer waits in foster care. Why should children wait because an agency refuses to consider otherwise suitable adopters on the basis of a characteristicsexual orientation, gender, marital status, age, etc.that has no bearing on their ability to parent?
Protecting Childrens Best Interests
To protect childrens best interests and promote permanency, agencies must:
Recruit families from the home communities of children in foster care. Agencies must cast a wide net to find families suitable for the quantity and diversity of children who need homes.
Work to place children safely and expeditiously. Within shortened permanency time frames dictated through the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, agencies can more quickly make better matches if they have more families from which to choose.
Respect children's existing attachments. Nationally, close to 65 percent of children who are adopted from foster care are adopted by their foster parents. Pre-existing connections smooth the transition to permanency, whether with a foster family or with another person in a childs life.
Weigh every applicant individually. Every child and adult is unique. Ignoring factors that do not impair a person's ability to care for children, fairly assess each applicant to see if he or she has the skills, stamina, and dedication to parent a child or sibling group awaiting adoption.
Value attributes of successful adoptive parents. Effective adoptive parents share certain traitsresourcefulness, humor, persistence, good support, etc. Collectively, such traits are much stronger indicators of success than gender, marital status, or sexual orientation alone.
Ask questions if you have concerns, and allow applicants to offer solutions. Can a single dad adequately "mother" a child? Ask how he'll provide female role models. Ask the same of single moms and male role models. If you worry that a gay couple will not offer a balanced perspective on heterosexual relationships, allow the couple to talk about heterosexual friends, family members, and others the child will know. Give grandparents who come forward to adopt the child of a troubled son or daughter time to share what theyve learned about parenting.
The pool of children who are waiting for adoptive families has been steadily growingfrom about 100,000 foster children in the late 1990s to 134,000 children in March 2000. Expedited parental rights terminations means even more children are now waiting.
Children need permanent families, and most kids simply want a safe home with a caring parent or two who can help them reach for their dreams. Unless taught bias, children care little about a parents marital status, sexual orientation, race, or age. More important is how good parents listen, care, teach, play, and watch out for them. Leave no resource untapped when searching for good parents; they come in as many different varieties as kids do.