Adoption by Lesbians and Gays: A National Survey of Adoption Agency Policies, Practices, and Attitudes (page 2)
Considerable controversy surrounds the issue of parenting by gays and lesbians, and it seems certain to escalate. It is a critical component of the debate over whether homosexuals should be permitted to marry, and it continues to divide policymakers in the United States – as well as in Canada and other countries – as they formulate laws and practices relating to workplace benefits, foster care, adoption, and an array of other important social and personal questions.
Even as these discussions proliferate on the legislative and rhetorical levels, however, reality on the ground is outstripping the pace of the debate. That is, a growing number of lesbians and gay men are becoming parents and are living as families every day, irrespective of what the policymakers do or say.
They are becoming mothers and fathers in many ways, but primarily through insemination, surrogacy and adoption. The latter alternative, which is becoming increasingly popular (though that fact is not generally publicized), provides critical insights into the cultural changes taking place in two major ways: demonstrating that the adoption of children by homosexuals is an ongoing, unabated practice; and showing that Americans’ attitudes are evolving – as reflected in the fact that more and more agencies are allowing openly gay and lesbian clients to adopt.
Solid research, to help inform and shape the dialogue, has been lacking. There have been studies, for example, finding that homosexuals’ parenting capacity and their children’s outcomes are comparable to those of heterosexuals. But little is known about two pivotal aspects of the process: What are adoption agency policies and practices toward prospective adoptive parents who are gay or lesbian? And to what extent are agencies placing children with homosexuals?
In an attempt to address these issues and to promote a more informed dialogue on this topic, the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute – funded by a generous grant from the Rainbow Endowment – conducted a systematic, nationwide analysis of whether agencies work with lesbian and gay prospective adoptive parents, the extent to which agencies place children with them, and agency staff attitudes regarding adoption by homosexuals.
The most sweeping conclusion that comes out of the research is simply that adoption agencies are increasingly willing to place children with gay and lesbian adults and, consequently, a steadily escalating number of homosexuals are becoming adoptive parents.
Among the study’s principal specific findings are:
- Lesbians and gays are adopting regularly, in notable and growing numbers, at both public and private agencies nationwide.
- Assuming those responding are representative (and the results show they are), 60% of adoption agencies accept applications from homosexuals.
- About 2 in 5 of all agencies in the country have placed children with adoptive parents whom they know to be gay or lesbian.
- Most likely to place children with homosexuals are public, secular private, Jewish- and Lutheran-affiliated agencies, and those focusing on special needs and international adoption.
In addition to the specific findings, the study’s results lead to several major conclusions on the levels of policy and practice:
For lesbians and gay men, the opportunities for becoming adoptive mothers and fathers is significantly greater than is generally portrayed in the media or perceived by the public. Though a large and growing number of agencies work with or are willing to work with homosexual clients, they often are unsure about whether or how to reach out to them. Because so many homosexuals are becoming adoptive parents, it is important for the sake of their children that agencies develop pre-placement and post-placement services.
Surveys requesting information about agency policies and practices in 1999-2000 were mailed to adoption program directors at all 51 public agencies in the United States, plus 844 private agencies (over half of all those listed in the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse database, randomly chosen within each state). Of those, 307 adoption agencies responded – 277 private and 30 public – representing a statistically strong 41% response rate (eliminating surveys returned as undeliverable, and from agencies not making adoption placements). The margin of error is plus or minus 5%. As a whole, about one-third of the agencies focused primarily on domestic infant/toddler adoptions and one-third on special needs adoptions. International adoptions were provided by approximately one-fifth of the agencies and one-tenth had mixed adoption programs. About half of the private agencies (177) did not have a religious affiliation, while the rest represented a variety of faiths.
In general, the study’s results confirm that adoptions by lesbians and gays are occurring regularly and in notable numbers, both at public and private agencies. The research also reveals that the acceptance of applications from homosexual clients, as well as the placement of children with lesbians and gays, is associated with both program type (special needs, private domestic infant, international) and religious affiliation or non-affiliation.
A clear majority of all responding agencies (60%) said they accepted applications from self-identified lesbians and gays in 1999-2000. Acceptance of such applications was associated with the agency’s type of placement program, with special needs agencies much more likely to accept applications from homosexuals than all other agency types. The vast majority of special needs programs (85.3%) and about two-thirds of international (68.2%) and mixed programs (65.7%) accepted applications from lesbians and gays, while almost half of domestic infant/toddler programs (48%) accepted such applications.
There was also a significant difference in the acceptance of adoption applications from homosexuals as a function of the agency’s religious affiliation. Jewish-affiliated agencies were universally willing to work with gay and lesbian clients, as were the vast majority of public agencies (90%), private agencies with no religious affiliation (80.2%), and most Lutheran agencies (66.7%). The rest of the agencies were much less willing to accept applications from homosexuals, although a sizable minority of Methodist and Catholic agencies did. About 20% of all agencies said that, on one or more occasions, they had rejected applications from homosexual prospective adoptive parents.
Almost two-thirds of responding agencies had official policies on adoption by gays and lesbians; of those, 33.6% reported a non-discrimination policy. About one-fifth responded that placement decisions were guided by the children’s country of origin, and another fifth said that religious beliefs were the basis for rejecting applications from homosexuals. Significantly, of the agencies choosing not to participate in the survey, more than one-third reported in follow-up phone calls that they did not work with homosexual prospective adoptive parents.
About 2 in 5 (39%) of all agencies had placed at least one child with a homosexual adoptive parent in 1999-2000. Because many of these agencies did not keep such statistics – fewer than half (43%) collected information on prospective adoptive parents’ sexual orientation – and since it was impossible to estimate the number of such placements they made, only one adoption placement with a homosexual client per year was counted for statistical purposes. Based on this conservative approach, respondents made a total of 1,206 such placements, or 1.3% of their total placements, though it’s apparent that the true number must be appreciably higher.
As with the acceptance of applications, adoptive placements of children with lesbians and gays varied as a function of program type and religious affiliation. The majority of special needs (61.5%) and international agencies (51.5%) made placements with homosexual clients. In contrast, fewer than half of the agencies with mixed adoption programs (45.7%) and only a quarter of agencies focusing on domestic infant adoptions (25.5%) made such placements. Public agencies (83.3%), Jewish-affiliated agencies (73.7%), private, secular agencies (55.9%) and Lutheran agencies (53.3%) were significantly more likely to make an adoption placement with a homosexual client than all other types of agencies.
As for informing potential birth parents when making an adoptive placement with lesbian or gay individuals, almost half of the respondents (47%) provided that information as a matter of policy or routine practice. A larger percentage (76.9%) of domestic infant agencies, than special needs and international programs, provided the information to prospective birth parents because the latter agencies have little contact with the child’s biological parents during the adoption planning process.
Reprinted with the permission of the Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. © 2007 Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute. All rights reserved.
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