Gay and Lesbian Adoptive and Foster Care Placements: Can They Meet the Needs of Waiting Children?

Article excerpt

Although the number of children in need of adoptive homes is growing, the number of prospective adoptive parents is decreasing. On the basis of an extensive review of relevant literature, the present study explored a potentially viable although controversial and little-researched option for increasing the pool of prospective parents: adoptions by gay men and lesbians. Data for this study were collected from child welfare workers and gay and lesbian adoptive and foster parents. A content analysis of the data suggests that gay men and lesbians experience considerable and seemingly unjustified obstacles in their efforts to become adoptive and foster parents. Major implications for practice and policy are offered, as are future directions for research.

Key words: adoption; children; foster care; gay men; lesbians; parenting

During the past decade the United States has experienced a dramatic increase in the number of children in out-of-home care (Brooks & Barth, 1998). An estimated 500,000 children are currently in foster care. African American children are the largest ethnic or racial group in care, approximately 47 percent of the national foster care population. Hispanic children are another 14 percent of the foster care population (Administration for Children and Families, 1997). Many children in care are eligible for or could benefit from adoption services. Whereas the number of children in need of adoptive homes is growing, there is widespread recognition that the pool of prospective adoptive parents is dwindling and that recruitment efforts have not been successful (Ricketts, 1991), especially on behalf of children and families of color. The disparity between the number of children needing to be adopted and the available pool of prospective families has significant repercussions, the most immediate being fewer adoptive plac ements for children.

To increase the pool of prospective adoptive families, Congress recently passed legislation (Howard M. Metzenbaum Multiethnic Placement Act [MEPA], P.L. 103-382 and the Interethnic Adoption Provisions, P.L. 104-188) that will likely result in more transracial adoption and foster care placements (Brooks, Barth, Bussiere, & Patterson, 1999). Transracial placements for children of color has been the source of immense controversy for nearly three decades. These placements, nonetheless, are now sanctioned by law and deemed by many social work professionals to be consistent with the best interests of the children. The present study explores another controversial but little-researched option for finding adoptive homes for children; that is, to place children with families in which a parent is gay or lesbian.


Some of the controversy surrounding placements with gay men and lesbians undoubtedly stems from the homophobia of social work professionals and the general public. Yet much of it appears to result from uncertainty about the effect of placements with gay men and lesbians on children's adjustment and well-being. Children in out-of-home care often have been physically and emotionally neglected and abused, the effects of which can be ameliorated by immediate and stable placements in foster homes or secure and permanent placements with adoptive families (Brooks & Barth, 1998). The effects of maltreatment, however, may be difficult to overcome if placement with gay men and lesbians entails special challenges and problems that generally do not exist when placing children with heterosexual couples. Although no empirical studies on gay and lesbian adoptive and foster families have been conducted to date, there is a growing literature on gay and lesbian biological families.

Research on Gay and Lesbian Biological Families

There are as many as 3 million gay fathers and 5 million lesbian mothers in the United States who are parents to an estimated 14 million children (Sullivan, 1995). Studies on gay and lesbian parents typically have focused on their mental health and parenting ability. …


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