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Working With Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Families in Adoption
Series: Bulletins for Professionals|
Child Welfare Information Gateway |
|Year Published: 2011|
Challenges in Working With LGBT Families
There are some unique challenges in working with LGBT prospective parents. Depending on the jurisdiction and setting in which professionals work, these challenges may include laws, policies, and biases against this population on the part of other professionals.
Foremost among the challenges that you may face in working on behalf of LGBT adoptive families will be the laws and policies that govern your practice. There is no Federal law or regulation that addresses LGBT adoption—it is determined at the State level by laws and statutes.
The statutory laws in most States are largely silent on the issue of adoption by gay and lesbian persons. As of November 2010, only one State explicitly prohibits adoption by LGBT individuals in their statutes. Mississippi forbids adoption by couples of the same gender.5 Utah bars adoption by persons who are cohabiting but not legally married; this language could be, and often is, interpreted to deny gay and lesbian adoptions. In Connecticut, the sexual orientation of the prospective adoptive parent may be considered, notwithstanding provisions in the State's laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. See Information Gateway's Who May Adopt, Be Adopted, or Place a Child for Adoption? for more information.
Because State laws are largely silent, laws may be interpreted differently by an individual social worker, attorney, agency, or judge. In some States, for example, a joint adoption by a gay or lesbian couple may be approved in one county, but in a neighboring county a social worker will submit a home study listing the primary applicant and "other member of household."
Some States allow second-parent adoption by a same-sex partner, which provides the highest level of legal and psychological security to children. Others, however, do not make this allowance, and LGBT families may remain more vulnerable because both adults are not legally recognized as parents.6 In States that do not permit second-parent adoption for LGBT families, adopted children are denied equal protection under the law and its benefits (Brown, Smalling, Groza, & Ryan, 2009)
While adoption is currently a legally supported option for LGBT people in the vast majority of States and jurisdictions, there exists a strong perception among LGBT people that they are legally barred from adopting in most areas. This misperception serves as a barrier to efforts to recruit and place children with LGBT parents. It also points up the need for expanded outreach to these communities.
In intercountry adoption, it is the laws of other nations that determine whether LGBT individuals or couples can adopt. Very few countries have explicit laws that restrict same-sex couples or LGBT individuals from adopting, but there are numerous policies and "cultural norms and expectations" that make it very difficult for same-sex couples as well as single individuals to adopt internationally. U.S.-based agencies that facilitate intercountry adoption have different levels of comfort when it comes to knowingly representing an LGBT parent. In most cases, same-sex couples who wish to adopt internationally will not be able to disclose their sexual orientation or relationship status without the potential of risking the adoption approval. This situation presents an ethical dilemma to the prospective parents as well as the social work professionals who are party to the adoption process.
The U.S. State Department maintains a database of written laws and policies for each country from which U.S. citizens are able to adopt.
Policies can be explicit (written and enforced) or implicit (agency culture, expectation of agency leadership). When an agency has no policies that expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, there is potential for members of the LGBT community to be disqualified or misled regarding the potential for placement.
Some faith-based agencies have written policies that prohibit placement of children with same-sex couples or LGBT individuals. However, some of these agencies operate in and receive funding from States in which discrimination against LGBT people is prohibited. This has resulted in litigation that has, on more than one occasion, resulted in a loss of State funding for the placement agency.
Private agencies may have explicit or implicit policies that give preferential treatment to married, heterosexual couples. In addition, entities that provide funding to agencies—from board members to private corporations—may choose to withdraw their funding if they learn that agencies are placing with LGBT parents.
In States where same-sex couples can't legally marry or enter civil unions or domestic partnerships, LGBT couples may not qualify for adoptive placements. Many prospective LGBT adoptive parents living in States that restrict or prohibit foster or adoptive parenting by LGBT individuals or couples may look for agencies in LGBT-"friendly" States. Prospective adoptive parents benefit from having an agency in their own community in which they can establish relationships with professionals who will help through the entire process and well into postpermanency support. Inconsistent laws and policies make it difficult to apply the best practices in some situations; the best plan is to be informed of the laws that govern practice in all States in which you are licensed.
Other challenges for some professionals in working with LGBT families and individuals may include personal bias, fear, and resistance to working with the LGBT community. Professionals working in the public sector may encounter peers who refuse to place children/youth with LGBT individuals or same-sex couples, even when a home study is approved and the family is considered a stellar placement opportunity.
The following are tips that can be helpful for professionals in addressing challenges:7
- Research the local and regional laws that may impact your LGBT adoptive families.
- Develop a referral list of experienced LGBT-competent family attorneys in your jurisdiction. Seek out consultation as needed with local LGBT-competent attorneys or with other agencies/professionals who may be more experienced in this special population.
- Develop a list of LGBT-friendly agencies outside of your State or region that can provide support and resources for LGBT families for whom their State of residence or local laws present challenges to their adoption process.
- Ensure that agency directors put this issue before their boards of trustees and are prepared to present evidence about the benefits of working with LGBT families.
- Become familiar with the local Family or Probate court having jurisdiction over adoption. The agency administration can engage the judge or his or her staff in discussion to determine how the court may treat cases of adoption of children by parents who are LGBT.
5On September 22, 2010, the Florida 3rd District Court of Appeal upheld a trial court ruling that Florida's explicit ban was unconstitutional, thus opening the door for adoption by LGBT parents. Back
6There is more information on the Human Rights Campaign website. Back
7Adapted from All Children—All Families Promising Practices Guide, 3rd Edition, © 2009 Human Rights Campaign Foundation, with permission Back
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