Academic journal article Social Work

Coming out of the Closet: Opening Agencies to Gay and Lesbian Adoptive Parents

Academic journal article Social Work

Coming out of the Closet: Opening Agencies to Gay and Lesbian Adoptive Parents

Article excerpt

Empirical and clinical knowledge of adoption policy and practice has increased greatly in recent years. However, a crisis remains in this arena, as many more children are available for adoption than there are families to adopt them. As a result of the 1997 enactment of the Adoption and Safe Families Act (P.L. 105-89), which requires more expedient termination of birth parent rights than had previously existed, the number of children available for adoption continues to grow. The Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), established as part of the act, estimated that as of September 30, 2001, 126,000 children were waiting to be adopted. These were children for whom the public child welfare agency had a goal of adoption, for whom parental rights had been terminated, or both. During the fiscal year ending September 30, 2001, AFCARS reported that an estimated 46,668 children were adopted through the public child welfare system (AFCARS, 2002).

Defining Suitable Adoptive Families

Child welfare agencies most often seek adoptive families from among traditional heterosexual two-parent or single-parent families. In doing this, they follow state adoption statutes, many dating to the mid-1900s that favor those families (Appell, 2001; Hollinger, 1999), even though a great deal of evidence exists that family constellations have changed significantly in the past three decades. Fields and Casper (cited in the U.S. Census Bureau, 2001) reported that the traditional two-parent nuclear family (that is, married households with one or more children under the age of 18) constituted 24 percent of all U.S. households in 2000--down from 40 percent in 1970. Although the total number of households in the United States is estimated to increase 15.5 percent from 1995 to 2010, the number of traditional families is projected to decline 6.4 percent from 24.6 million to 23.1 million. Such families would then constitute only 20.1 percent of total households (U.S. Census Bureau, 1996).

Greater flexibility in the conceptualization and interpretation of the word "family" (Ricketts & Achtenberg, 1989) would benefit children awaiting adoptive families. The effect of excluding nontraditional placement resources through an overly narrow definition of family is that some children will languish longer in foster care without permanence. Brooks and colleagues (1999) have discussed recent federal legislation intended to increase the pool of multiethnic foster and adoptive families. Their principles for recruitment and adoption placement practice show that commitment to considering gay and lesbian singles and couples as potential adoptive families would expand the possibilities for permanent child placement.

Currently there are no uniform standards across states regarding adoption by gay men and lesbians. Florida is the only state that explicitly prohibits single and coupled gay men and lesbians from becoming adoptive parents. Although 49 states allow consideration of a gay or lesbian person as an adoptive parent, only four states--California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Vermont--and the District of Columbia explicitly permit joint adoption by lesbian or gay couples (LetHimStay, 2002). All other jurisdictions determine who can and cannot adopt on a case-by-case basis, using local and state statutes (Ricketts & Achtenberg, 1989). Thus, public child welfare agencies in most states could consider gay men and lesbians as potential adoptive parents. However, Utah and Arkansas have instituted exclusionary administrative policies effectively prohibiting gay men and lesbians from adopting children in either state's custody (Riggs, 1999). Similar measures have been considered in Arizona, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas (Appell, 2001; Ferrero, Freker, & Foster, 2002; Riggs). These policies and legislative measures ignore evidence that family form does little to ensure success in adoption. …

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